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Hoops Report: Luck and Pluck vs. Mississippi State… and beyond

Nowhere to go but up.

As you may know, the 2010-2011 Auburn basketball season has been, up to this point, nothing but a long, laborious, and well-documented catalog of misfortune. From the team’s best player being lost for the season due to an ACL injury — not once, but twice — to another ACL issue hindering another player, to the team’s second leading scorer transferring out over Christmas break, to the NCAA denying a blue-chip Texas transfer a hardship waiver and a chance to play until next year, all the way to the team’s starting center being suspended not two weeks ago, this season has seemed like an absolute train wreck and the team living it nothing short of cursed.

For most of Saturday, it looked like more of the same. When the Tigers trailed by 12 at halftime things looked bleak. When they trailed by 19 with 11:24 to go, things looked even worse. But for the final ten minutes, they laid their guts on the court and chipped, hacked, gnawed, and clawed at the lead, doing whatever it took to get themselves back in the game. They even had a couple lucky calls and a few fortunate bounces go their way.

Inside a rocking Auburn Arena, the Tigers came out with a 65-62 come-from-behind victory that had the crowd in a frenzy and the visiting Bulldogs stunned. The historic 19-point comeback was Auburn’s biggest since Porter, Daniels, N’Diaye, and the gang pulled one off in 1999. And the healthy handful of Mississippi State road fans, with all of their Cam Newton jokes, had to sit there and eat it.

E.J. Ross and Kenny Gabriel once again led the way on offense with 21 and 18, respectively, but the most surprising part of the win was that Auburn was able to contain Mississippi State’s big men Renardo Sidney and Kodi Augustus, which is something they could not do against the bigs of the likes of Tennessee and Alabama earlier this year. Auburn contained them on one end, and slashed through them on the other end, to finish with 30 points in the paint to the Bulldogs’ 20. Couple that with 50 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line, and Auburn was able to walk away with it’s head held as high as it’s been all season.

It was a great win for this team and a great night for Auburn basketball… and it was a win that we desperately, desperately needed.

Up next, Auburn heads to Oxford to take on Ole Miss. Once again, they’ll probably need some luck to go with that pluck — the Rebels have been red hot at home since they sank Kentucky with a last second three two weeks ago. It’ll be an uphill struggle. But what else is new?

Some thoughts:

— For me, the best part of the Mississippi State win, as it has been with all of Auburn’s signature wins this season like Florida State and South Carolina, was that the team that roared back in the final ten minutes was the same team that was playing in the first 30 minutes of the game, the same team that has been playing all year. There weren’t any different players underneath those jerseys, and they didn’t magically transform or play any different than they have all year. The team that shot 55.6 percent from the field in the second half against Mississippi State is the same team that scored just 6 points in the first half against LSU.

They’ve played with the same effort and the same defensive brand of Barbee basketball all year. The difference is and has simply been heir youth, and with it their inconsistent scoring stroke. We’ve seen flashes of potential, and the encouraging part looking to the future (kind of a theme this season, huh?) is that help isn’t just on the way, it’s already here. Some of the missing pieces that could glue this thing together are already sitting on the end of the bench in gray sweats, and can’t wait to jump into the fold next season.

— The giant elephant in the room, of course, is Rob Chubb and his somewhat early return from suspension Saturday night. I’m sure somebody out there thinks he maybe should have been suspended for more than two games, but the truth is that Tony Barbee and this team are at a point where they need to get wins however they can, whatever it takes. And if that means setting a bad example, taking some heat from alumni, and letting someone off a little easy for the betterment of the entire team, then so be it. Personally, my line of thinking that it’s no place for the school or a coach to be punishing a player too severely for something he’s being punished for already. Suspending him, or any player in that situation, for an extended period of time, saying that that player is somehow unworthy and doesn’t deserve to play basketball, is just a form of vanity. I’m glad Tony Barbee isn’t going to throw one of his players under the bus for something so disingenuous. That’s just my two cents.

— Finally, it looks like Andre Malone has found a home at the University of Rhode Island. He’ll strap up for the Rams halfway through next season. Best of luck to him there and wherever else the future takes him.

Hoopball Recruiting: Saturday was more than just a win on the court and in the record column, as several recruits were there on unofficial visits to witness the comeback and the atmosphere, including big-time in-state prospect Trevor Lacey, and others. It was a huge weekend on the recruiting trail, and it even landed Auburn a verbal commit from the 2012 class.

The high-flying three star Shaquille Johnson formally committed after the Mississippi State game. He’ll be something to look forward to in the 2012 class because… well…

Here’s some different angles (and his competition) from the same slam dunk contest. He also broke a rim in half at an AAU game. I CANNOT WAIT to see this guy play.

Photo via.

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