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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tay Waller's season-best 29 points propel Auburn past SEC West-leading Arkansas 92-83

AUBURN, Ala. — Tay Waller had a hot hand he didn't want to lose. Once the Auburn guard got enough of a breather in the first half Saturday, he lobbied hard for head coach Jeff Lebo to put him back in the game.

Lebo didn't fear that Waller would suddenly get gun-shy.

"It doesn't matter if I put him down or I put him in the locker room: when he comes in, he's going to shoot it," Lebo said, chuckling. "There's not a shot that he doesn't like. He takes some teeth-clenchers that I have to chew on a little bit occasionally, but he has the ability to make them."

Lebo certainly couldn't argue with the outcome. Waller made seven 3-pointers and scored a season-high 29 points as Auburn upended SEC Western Division-leading Arkansas 92-83 at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

The Tigers (13-14, 4-8 SEC), who lost three of their previous four games in crunch time, put the contest away with a surge in the final three minutes. Waller, ironically, hit a two-point pull-up jumper with 2:44 left that broke a 79-all tie and spurred a 7-0 run.

Auburn followed up with three straight defensive stops in what was an overwhelmingly offensive game, a welcome change for a team that has lost tight games in every conceivable fashion this season.

The win pulled the Tigers even with Alabama for fourth place in the SEC West, with four games remaining before the conference tournament in Nashville, Tenn.

"Any time you can get an SEC win late in the season, it means you are getting on a roll," Auburn forward Lucas Hargrove said. "With the conference tournament coming up, it is good to get everyone on the same page."

The Tigers had their best offensive SEC game of the Lebo era, scoring 92 points. It was their most in a conference game since 1999.

DeWayne Reed played a controlled game at point guard, scoring 17 points to go with four assists. Hargrove (13 points), Brendon Knox (12) and Frankie Sullivan (11) all reached double figures as well.

Auburn shot 61 percent from the field (28-for-46), went 25-for-33 from the free throw line and made 11 3-pointers, the majority of which came from three free-shooting Waller.

The senior matched his season high with five 3-pointers in the first half, helping the Tigers claim a 42-36 lead.

"Every time we shoot the ball well, we win," Waller said. "Tonight it was just falling. As you can see, we played better once we made some shots. It felt really good because I have not had a game like this all year."

Waller, who has made the fourth-most 3-pointers in the SEC, kept firing in the second half. He finished 10-for-15 from the floor and made seven of his 10 3-point attempts, one shy of a career high.

"I'm not taking math this semester, but I think that's about 70 percent," said Hargrove, the team's resident jokester. "You can't beat that. You can't ask for no more than that right there."

Arkansas (14-13, 7-5 SEC) got 23 points and seven rebounds from freshman forward Marshawn Powell. Courtney Fortson and Rotnei Clarke both added 16 points for the Razorbacks, who shot 50 percent and out-scored the Tigers in the paint 50-30.

Coach John Pelphrey was quick to credit Auburn for cooling off his team, which won six of seven entering Saturday.

"Anybody who thinks Auburn is not a very good basketball team, that's just foolishness," Pelphrey said. "They don't know what they're talking about. This is a very difficult league and Jeff's an outstanding coach. Tonight they were just better than us."

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