NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With 11:17 left in the game at Bridgestone Arena, Auburn’s basketball team was rolling. Chris Denson had gone hard to the basket and converted a three-point play. A 13-point Texas A&M lead had been erased. It was 47-47.
Frankie Sullivan puts up a shot during the final game of his Auburn career/Todd Van Emst photos
“We were clicking on all cylinders, boxing out, getting rebounds,” senior guard Frankie Sullivan said. “We played with a lot of confidence during that stretch.”
But as has been the case game after game, week after week, it didn’t last. Texas A&M scored the next five points. Though the Tigers fought back time and again, they never caught up again. The Aggies ended Auburn’s season with a 71-62 victory in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, putting the game away at the free throw line.
“Just a couple mental lapses,” Sullivan said. “That’s all it takes for a team like that to hit a couple of big shots.”
And a disaster of an Auburn basketball season finally ended. The Tigers finished 9-23 overall and 3-15 in the SEC. They lost their last 10 games and 16 of their last 17 games.
Senior point guard Josh Wallace said he and his teammates would leave disappointed but unbowed, proud of their effort if not the result.
“I mean, it's not how you want to leave your legacy at a school,” Wallace said. “That's definitely not how you want to go out, but I mean we fought. You just have to walk out the door with your head held high and hope. I know these boys next year is going to carry the torch and do better things than us.”
Sullivan scored 19 points in his final Auburn game. Junior Chris Denson scored 15 and Wallace scored 8.
For Sullivan, a fifth-year senior who overcame major knee surgery, it was an emotional night.
“It really hit me in the locker room just now, especially after fighting so hard knowing we could have won the game,” Sullivan said. “You go back and play the year back over. It's disappointing we didn't do better because we had a great team. We let it slip on our part.”
Regardless of the outcome or the season, Sullivan said he has no regrets that he chose Auburn back in 2008. He has earned his degree and played this season as a graduate.
“It's a great school and a great institution,” Sullivan said. “I love it.”
Barbee said his mission is to understand what happened and why it happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. That process could not start, he said, until the season was over
“It's just disappointing that we had opportunities and more than our fair share of games we could have won this year and couldn't get over the hump,” Barbee said.
Barbee said before the season he expected this team to be his best, but he bristled at the question Wednesday night.
“I didn't misjudge anything,” Barbee said. “Your win-loss record at the end of the day doesn't indicate why the season went the way it went. There’s lot of disappointment, lot of frustration in the locker room, but I told every one of them that I'm the coach of the program and I'm the leader of the ship and it all falls on me.
“I took full responsibility in front of those guys where this season went and challenged them like I told them I'm going challenge myself. We all got to get better so we can come back next year and make sure next year doesn't go the way this year went.”
Through it all, Barbee said, he didn't lose faith in his ability to win at Auburn and still hasn't.
"I’m confident in myself," Barbee said. "I’ve won everywhere I’ve been. And we’re going to win at Auburn.”
First-team All-SEC selection Elston Turner led Texas A&M (18-14) with 22 points Wednesday night. The No. 11 seeded Aggies play No. 6 seed Missouri tonight at 9.