PITTSBURGH - Kenny Gabriel scored a game-high 18 points and Earnest Ross notched his second double-double of the season with 15 points, a game-high 10 rebounds and five assists but Auburn’s comeback fell short in a 63-54 loss to Rutgers in the SEC-Big East Invitational in the Consol Energy Center on Saturday.
Sophomore Kenny Gabriel scored 18 points against Rutgers/Todd Van Emst photo
Auburn (3-5) scored the first seven points of the game as Rutgers missed its first 12 shots from the field. The Scarlet Knights didn’t make their first field goal until a James Beatty 3-pointer seven minutes
into the game. The basket cut the Tigers’ lead to 11-7 and ignited a 15-0 Rutgers run for a 19-11 edge with 9:13 left in the half. Auburn went scoreless for 5:26.
“It’s what I told the team after the game,* Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “I was proud of them the way they fought back. The issues we are having is believing that you’re supposed to win the game. It doesn’t mean that you are going to win them all, but you have to believe.
“It was a three-possession game with a minute and a half to go. That’s an eternity, and we have guys with their heads hanging. They just don’t understand that the game is never over until that final
Leading 29-24 at the half, Rutgers (6-2) scored the first eight points of the second half to extend its lead to 37-24 just over three minutes into the second period. Auburn closed to within 39-32 with 13 minutes remaining, but then went scoreless for 7:13 as Rutgers pushed its lead to as much as 51-34.
The Tigers hung tough by outscoring the Scarlet Knights 16-6 to close to within 57-50 with 1:34 to go on a Gabriel 3-pointer. Gabriel scored eight points during the stretch.
Andre Malone scored 10 points for Auburn. Duane Miller led Rutgers with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Rutgers outrebounded the Tigers 46-33 and had a 20-2 advantage in second-chance points.
“We didn’t get outrebounded, we got dominated on the backboard,” Barbee said. “We played well enough defensively to win this game. We held them to 33 percent, and they had 17 offensive rebounds. If they just get half of those offensive rebounds, we win the ball game.”