Auburn stumbling into matchup with Tennessee - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Auburn stumbling into matchup with Tennessee

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AP Sports Writer

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn's offensive struggles reached a low point when the Tigers missed 17 straight shots of every variety against Vanderbilt, a 14-minute span of futility in a painful season.

Coach Tony Barbee had his players watch every one of them on film on Monday, and it didn't get any easier the second time around. Frankie Sullivan, Rob Chubb, Josh Wallace, Allen Payne — it seemed everyone went into a funk at the same time.

"I had three wide-open jump shots that just went in and out," Sullivan said. "Chubb shot a layup that went halfway down and came out. Josh Wallace shot a floater in and out. Allen (Payne), he shot a pullup that he hit numerous times this year and it came in and out. It's like Flubber's on the ball, and you just can't get it to go in.

"I really don't understand it."

It's just one more painful scene this season for the Tigers (9-20, 3-13 Southeastern Conference), who go into Wednesday night's game with Tennessee (17-11, 9-7) having lost 13 of 14 games.

They've only won once since opening SEC play with 2-0 and are averaging 57.8 points over the last 12 games.

Barbee seems to alternate between optimism for the future and dismay for the present.

"I see guys getting better," the third-year coach said. "Nobody hates losing more than me. I've aged 10 years this year because I haven't slept. I'm trying to figure out ways to get this team back on the winning track. I see the direction that it's going — and I'm excited about it."

Then again, it doesn't necessarily get easier. Barbee is about to lose four seniors, including Sullivan, Chubb, Wallace and Payne.

If that one marathon string of misses against Vandy doesn't tell the season's tale, it's Sullivan's struggles. After the first game of this stretch he was averaging 17.8 points a game.

Since then, he's shooting 34.7 percent from the floor, 22 percent from 3-point range and averaging 9.7 points. He's endured a nine-game stretch without being his team's leading scorer even though his average remains tops.

Barbee called it "an unprecedented rut" for a player he calls one of the best shooters he has coached.

"This stretch right here is as mind-boggling as anything I've seen," he said, noting a play during that long team drought where Sullivan was well short on a wide-open 3-pointer.

"It's the pressure of his senior year, the pressure he puts on himself to be the best player, the pressure of it coming to an end, his college career. He didn't handle that in the right way."

Barbee is trying to balance building for the future and giving the seniors a nice sendoff. Freshman guard Shaq Johnson has become a late-season starter while junior college transfer Asauhn Dixon-Tatum has seen increasing minutes as a shot-blocking center.

Barbee also said he frequently reminds freshmen that he thinks the future is bright.

"We do that every day. That's not just because we're to the last two games," he said. "It's the same thing for the group of seniors. I keep telling them: You've got a few opportunities left. How do you want to be remembered?

"For our young guys, given where we're at right now, it's not where we're at with these last three guaranteed games we have left. It's not about these three games. It's about you individually growing as a player and it's about you continuing to learn and understand and lay the foundation of where we're trying to get this to. That's what we keep preaching with our veteran players and with our younger players."

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