AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn overcame early struggles from the field and used a big first half run along with solid foul shooting to defeat Georgia 59-51 on Wednesday in the Auburn Arena. Varez Ward scored 17 points and made all 12 free throws while Kenny Gabriel totaled 16 points, eight rebounds and four blocks for the Tigers.
"We got off to a slow start offensively," Auburn head coach Tony Barbee said. "It goes back to our defense. We continued to guard. Earlier in the season, when we only scored two points in the first nine minutes of the game, we could have been down 15 or even 20 to 2, but we continued to guard. We were able to break the ice on the rim. We were able to get it going. When we get stops on defense and play fast in the transition like that, then that will lead to easy buckets and boy do we need to find a way to get some easy buckets."
The Tigers were scoreless for the first seven minutes of the game before two free throws by Ward. Auburn also missed its first 12 field goal attempts before Frankie Sullivan converted its first field goal of the night on a 3-pointer with 10:45 left in the first half, and the Tigers only trailed 9-7.
Auburn (13-9, 3-5) then rattled off a 20-1 run over nine minutes to take a 22-10 lead with 2:49 left in the first half. The Tigers held Georgia (10-11, 1-6) to 1-for-17 shooting during the stretch as they pulled ahead. Gabriel closed out the first half by scoring a pair of baskets in the final minute to give Auburn a 26-15 lead at the break.
Georgia began the second half with a 12-4 run that pulled the Bulldogs to within three, but Auburn responded with a Sullivan layup and a 6-0 spurt to pull back ahead by nine, 36-27, with 14 minutes to go.
A dunk by Georgia's Donte' Williams closed the Auburn lead to 45-42 with 4:54 to play, but the Tigers pushed it back out to 49-42. The Bulldogs closed to within 51-49 on a transition layup by Gerald Robinson, who had a team-high 16 points and eight rebounds, with 52 seconds left. That is as close as Georgia had been since 7:17 left in the first half, and the Bulldogs wouldn't get any closer.
On the next possession, Gabriel again came up big for Auburn and his three-point play gave the Tigers a 54-49 lead with only 38 seconds left.
"We just didn't play very well offensively," Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. "Even with our shooting, we had a chance to win the game but made so many unintelligent plays. We let our frustration affect our offensive play. Still, we put ourselves in position and got it to where it was one-possession game, but found a way to mess it up. Give Auburn credit. They got to the foul line a great deal in the second half, and that was real key for them."
Auburn connected on 11-of-12 free throws in the last four minutes, including 8-of-9 in the final 1:38 to secure the win. The Tigers held Georgia to 25 percent (13-of-52) shooting on the night.
"We have been playing well defensively," Barbee said. "The last three games, we have held our opponents to under 40 percent shooting, which is a goal of ours. Tonight, we held Georgia to under 30 percent, and it was much needed because we only shot 33 percent."