AUBURN -- The wait is over for Tony Barbee and his first Auburn team.
Earnest Ross led Auburn with a career-high 22 points Sunday./Todd Van Emst photo
The Tigers rallied from a 17-point first half deficit to earn their first win of the Barbee era 68-66 over Middle Tennessee State Sunday in the final game of the Global Hoops Sports Showcase.
It was also Auburn’s first win in the new Auburn Arena, which had hosted three straight losses to open the season.
“We could have easily of just laid down but Coach Barbee kept pushing us,” said sophomore Earnest Ross, who led Auburn with a career-high 22 points.
“We were tired of losing. Guys that we have, we just keep playing hard to the end.”
The win didn’t come easy.
Two free throws by Josh Wallace gave Auburn a 68-62 lead with 39 seconds left but James Washington answered with a quick 3-pointer to cut the lead to 68-65 and then Auburn threw it away on the inbounds to give the Blue Raiders an opportunity to tie the game with 24 seconds left.
Two MTSU 3-point attempts bounced off the rim but Trevor Ottley drew a foul with 0.9 seconds left. Ottley made the first but the second bounced off the rim and into the hands of Auburn’s Allen Payne to end the game.
Auburn outrebounded MTSU 40-27, blocked four shots and had just 10 turnovers.
“We did a great job to hold them to six offensive rebounds and to dominate them on the backboard was a big step for this team,” Barbee said. “And we took care of the ball offensively and didn’t have the silly turnovers.”
MTSU led by 17 with seven minutes left in the first half but Auburn stormed back with a 16-2 run to cut the Blue Raiders’ lead to 34-31 at halftime. The Tigers opened the second half with a 12-1 run to give them a lead they would hold until Jason Jones tied it 60-60 with a jump shot.
Ross, who made 8-of-13 shots from the field, answered with a 3-pointer to give Auburn a 63-60 lead with 3:16 left. Ross made 3-of-5 3-pointers and added four rebounds.
“I wasn’t in it the last few games but tonight I definitely was feeling it,” Ross said. “I’d do anything to help my team and tonight I had to score the ball.”
Rob Chubb had a career-high 13 points and Kenny Gabriel led Auburn with 11 rebounds.
“Tonight, we grew up in a big way,” Barbee said. “We’ve still got a lot of growing and maturing to do. But I thought our attention to detail tonight on the defensive end of the floor, is what made the difference.”
Washington led MTSU with 25 points.
Auburn (1-3) returns to action Saturday as Jacksonville visits the Auburn Arena. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. CT.