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No answers as Tigers wilt again

AUBURN – Another night had gone bad for Auburn’s basketball team. Another game had been lost. For the fourth consecutive time and 10th time in 11 games, the desperate search for answers came up empty.

Senior point guard Josh Wallace had two points and two assists against Texas A&M/Lauren Barnard photo

Auburn bolted out of the gate to a 12-0 lead, but Texas A&M took the lead for good at 43-42 with 11:16 left and put the game away at the free throw line down the stretch for a 65-56 victory before a crowd of 5,322 at Auburn Arena.

The Tigers fell to 9-17 overall and 3-10 in the Southeastern Conference. Third-year head coach Tony Barbee vowed to push on, but frustration and disappointment were in his voice.

“We’re not a very good team right now,” Barbee said. “I’m not a very good coach with this team. It’s disappointing.”

Barbee went to his bench more than 40 times against the Aggies. Eight Auburn players played 15 minutes or more. Only Allen Payne, with 11 points, scored in double figures. Barbee said he went looking for leadership and the kind of effort it takes to win in the SEC. And he said he didn’t find it.

“If they aren’t going to defend, they come right out of the game,” Barbee said. “If they’re not going to dive on the floor for loose balls, they come right out of the game. If they don’t pursue every rebound, they come out of the game. That’s why.”

It’s not, Barbee said, about taking players out for making mistakes.

“Effort. Hustle. Desire. Passion. Energy,” Barbee said. “That’s not a mistake. Forgetting a play, forgetting where you are supposed to go. Those are mistakes. Not coming up with loose balls, not diving on the floor when they have three guys on the floor and you are standing there looking at it, that’s not a mistake. That’s a lack of desire.”

And that, Barbee said, will get a player taken out of the game, regardless of the circumstances.

“It’s how I coach,” Barbee said. “They’ve heard it every single game, every single practice for three years.”

With five games left, Auburn is all but assured of playing in the “first four” in the 14-team SEC Tournament in Nashville. But Barbee wasn’t interested in talking about the SEC Tournament. Auburn’s season, he said, has come down to who is willing to fight.

“I’m going to keep fighting, because that’s what I am,” Barbee said. “I am going to find out who is going to fight with me.”

With every loss, the grumbling grows among Auburn fans, already distressed by the worst football season in 60 years. Payne said Auburn players have to find within themselves the leadership and effort Barbee demands.

“He’s not going to give up on us,” Payne said. “He’s the type guy to give up on anything. He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever been around. He loves us too much to let us fall by the wayside. It’s not him. It’s not the staff. We can’t blame anybody but ourselves. There comes a time when it’s time to stop talking about it and start doing it.

“He’s not playing. His playing days are over. He’s putting us in the best position possible to win. We have to execute. We back Coach 100 percent. We know he’s not going to give up on us and we’re not going to give up on him.”

Auburn struggled to contain A&M guard Elston Turner, who scored 21 points. Guard Alex Caruso, averaging 4.6 points per game, scored 14 points, had eight assists and four rebounds.

After shooting 36.7 percent in taking a 31-29 halftime lead, A&M shot 55 percent the second half. Auburn shot 50 percent the first half and just 26.7 percent the second half.

“Collectively, the effort is not good and the leadership is not good,” Barbee said. “The leadership is back on the staff, and I’ve told these players from Day 1 when the leadership comes from the staff you’re not going to be a good team. It’s when players take ownership. It doesn’t have to come from your seniors. Obviously, our seniors aren’t doing it. I’m waiting for somebody to grab it, and nobody is stepping up.”

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