AUBURN - The stage was set for an upset. Auburn's basketball team was jacked up, along with the near-capacity crowd at Auburn Arena. And in the end, it was oh so close.
Chris Denson goes to the basket for two of his 18 points against Ole Miss/Todd Van Emst
But Auburn freshman Shaq Johnson was called for a foul on Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson away from the ball with six seconds left. Henderson made them both. Frankie Sullivan's desperation 3-pointer wasn't close as time expired and the No. 23 Rebels escaped with a 63-61 victory before a crowd of 8,740.
The Rebels, off to the best start in school history, improved to 17-2 overall and 6-2 in the Southeastern Conference. Auburn lost its fourth straight and fell to 8-11 and 2-4.
Auburn did almost everything it needed to do to win, and got some help from Ole Miss.
Henderson, the SEC's leading scorer, had 15 points but was 4-of-15 from the field. Ole Miss made just 4-of-17 free throws. Auburn got off to a fast start and led 33-23 inside the final two minutes of the first half. Chris Denson shook off the effects of a stress fracture that sidelined him for four games and 18 points. But, in the end, none of it was enough.
The Tigers struggled from the field, hitting 20-of-55 for 36.4 percent. In the end, that proved to be their undoing. Frankie Sullivan, the SEC's second leading scored 12 points but was 3-for-11 from the field and 2-for-9 from 3-point range.
"Disappointed in the loss, but proud of the guys and the way they fought in this game," Barbee said. "Like I told the guys, we all wanted to win and they were fighting their tails off to win. But it's a key indication that when nobody cares who gets the glory and we are doing this together and playing for each other we are a pretty good team.
"The game wasn't lost on that last play. The game wasn't lost on that last play."
Down 61-56 with 3:30 left on a Denson free throw. With 19 seconds left, Denson drove the lane in an attempt to give Auburn the lead. Murphy Holloway blocked his shot. On the other end, Johnson blocked Reginald Buckner's shot with six seconds left. Before the ball was inbounded, Johnson was called for fouling Henderson.
The loss, Sullivan said, was painful but showed where this Auburn team can go.
"That's a tough pill to swallow right there," Sullivan said. "We played hard. I think we bounced back from the last two games and played really well as a team. It really showed tonight that we can do some great things when we just lock in and stay focused."
Barbee said Auburn players, behind closed doors, dealt with issues that had plagued them in ugly losses at home to Kentucky and at Vanderbilt.
"We got out of our own way," Barbee said. "We stopped worrying about petty stuff that every team goes through, usually this time of year when you are in conference play. The teams that address it and talk about it and bring it up in front of each other and address the issues in front of each other, whatever they are, are the teams that can go on a run. I thought it really got us back to doing it together and worrying about our jobs."
Auburn led 33-23 inside the final two minutes of the first half, but Ole Miss scored the final eight points. At the buzzer, forward Aaron Jones banked in a 3-point shot. It was his first of the season.. The game was a fight from then on. Ole Miss led by no more than five points.
Guard Ladarius White picked up the scoring slack for Ole Miss, scoring 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
Auburn goes to Georgia on Wednesday in an effort to get back on the winning track.
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