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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Men's hoops: Tay Waller's hot streak continues in Auburn's 74-59 win over LSU

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s Tay Waller grew up with a shooter’s mentality, so he’s never shied away from firing away at will from 3-point range.

“I’ve always been told when I miss, there’s something wrong with the goal,” he said.

Nothing has been wrong with the rim of late for Waller, who scored 26 points to lead Auburn to a 74-59 victory Saturday against LSU in the second-to-last game at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

The senior guard has scored 84 points in the last three games, going 21-for-31 from 3-point range.

He’s the first Auburn player to score 25 or more in three straight SEC games since Wesley Person in 1994.

“You can’t count on that every night,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. “It’s just insane how he’s playing. But we’re not going to complain.”

The win vaulted Auburn (14-15, 5-9 SEC) ahead of Alabama into fourth place in the SEC West with two games to play. DeWayne Reed scored 12 points and Brendon Knox added 10.

Bo Spencer led LSU (10-18, 1-13 SEC) with 23 points.

For once, the Tigers built a halftime lead even they couldn’t let slip away. Auburn, which has lost five SEC games after leading at the break, hit eight 3-pointers to build a 17-point halftime advantage that never dipped below nine the rest of the way.

Waller was the spark plug, making two 3-pointers in the first minute and a half as Auburn raced to a 9-0 lead.

“Reed told me once I get going, they can relax because they can always rely on me to hit a shot when they need it,” Waller said. “When I come out and make shots, our team plays much better.”

“When he makes them like that, it opens up a lot of things for us,” Lebo said. “It opens up things inside. It opens up for us on the perimeter, as far as driving lanes. You’ve got to guard him all over the court in a different way. ... Even when he’s not getting shots, he’s getting shots for other people because of how they’re defending him.”

Auburn turned the tables on LSU forward Tasmin Mitchell, who torched the Tigers for a season-high 38 points in the teams’ first meeting in January.

With guard Frankie Sullivan in street clothes after suffering a concussion during Friday’s practice, Auburn freshman Earnest Ross got the start and the job of guarding Mitchell. He did so with some success last time against LSU, slowing the SEC’s third-leading scorer down in the final minutes in Baton Rouge and drawing a key offensive foul in a four-point Auburn win.

Ross rattled him again Saturday. Mitchell scored a season-low six points on 2 of 8 shooting before fouling out on a charge with 9:12 to play.

Ross, meanwhile, scored six points, grabbed six rebounds and notched four steals in 29 minutes.

“You always worry about putting a freshman on a fifth-year senior,” Lebo said. “We did a pretty good job on him. (Ross) was physical and quick.”

The Tigers, who have won four straight at home, are hoping to send Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum out on a high note. The 41-year-old arena will host its final basketball game Wednesday when Auburn takes on Mississippi State.

“A lot of players played in this gym and we’re going to be the last ones,” Reed said. “So that’s a great honor for me.”

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