AUBURN -- Auburn blew an 18-point halftime lead as UNC Asheville rallied for a 70-69 overtime win Friday night in the first game at the new Auburn Arena.
Andre Malone had 11 points but none in the 2nd half/Todd Van Emst photo
The Tigers had the ball and an opportunity to win the game with 14 seconds left in overtime but John Wallace turned the ball over as he drove the lane and his pass was deflected.
“Our inexperience showed,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “We are what we are. I thought we played hard. I thought for the most part we battled for the majority of the game.
“The bottom line is our lack of experience showed and their experience showed.”
Auburn led 62-54 with 2:14 left in regulation but a 3-pointer by J.P. Primm pulled the Bulldogs within five. Asheville cut it to 63-61 on a tip-in by D.J. Cunningham and got the ball right back on a turnover by Wallace.
Primm was fouled with 33 seconds. He missed both free throws but John Williams got a tip-in for the tying bucket.
“You have to come up with that rebound,” Barbee said. “...We work on that in practice. That is a mental and physical toughness that comes with experience. We had two of our better rebounders inside in Kenny (Gabriel) and Rob (Chubb) and couldn’t come up with that rebound.”
Gabriel led Auburn with 18 points and 13 rebounds, both career highs. He also had two blocks and two steals. Andre Malone finished with 11 points including back-to-back 3-pointers at the end of the first half to give the Tigers a 37-21 lead at the break.
“We should have ended up beating them by 20-plus points but we just got a lack of physical and soft mentally and we just let go of the lead,” Gabriel said.
Freshman Allen Payne added 14 points and Earnest Ross had 12 points and nine rebounds for Auburn.
Matt Dickey led UNC Asheville with 18 points including the first-ever points in the Auburn Arena on a layup 27 second after the opening tip. Primm added 16 points and Jaron Lane 14 for the Bulldogs.
Auburn’s first bucket came on a tip-in by Chubb, who finished with two points and 10 rebounds.
The first game in the Auburn Arena was played in front of a sellout crowd of 9,121.
“It was fantastic playing in there,” Gabriel said. “The crowd was lovely. It’s just a nice place to play. We hope they come back for the next game.”
It was also Barbee’s first game as Auburn’s head coach. He was hired away from UTEP in March.
“My job, that’s why I’m here, is to change the culture,” Barbee said. “...I told these guys losing is not your fate. It’s not your fate so don’t accept it.”
Auburn (0-1) returns to action next Friday as Samford visits Auburn Arena in the first game of the Global Sports Hoops Showcase. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 pm CT.