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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Auburn tops Mississippi State 89-80 in emotional Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum finale

AUBURN, Ala. — Tay Waller heard it all week, from friends, family, even random Auburn fans: don't you dare lose the final game in Beard-Eaves-Memorials Coliseum.

"I had a lot of people telling me they didn't want to go home sad," Waller said. "I'm just glad we sent the home happy."

Waller and the rest of Auburn's seniors came up big in the final regular season game of the 41-year-old arena, scoring all but 11 of Auburn's points in an 89-80 victory against SEC West-leading Mississippi State.

The Tigers (15-15, 6-9 SEC), who will move across the street into the $92.5 million Auburn Arena next season, won their final five games in Beard-Eaves.

Waller continued his hot streak, leading the way with six three-pointers and a team-high 22 points, but the Tigers' other seniors played prominent roles. Brendon Knox finished with 21 points and seven rebounds, DeWayne Reed 19 points and eight assists and Lucas Hargrove 14 points.

"I've been involved with a lot of games, and the anticipation of this one made me want to win even more," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "I'm so excited for my seniors. I wanted to win this one so bad for them and to send the arena out the right way."

Dee Bost scored all of his game-high 25 points in the second half for the Bulldogs (21-9, 9-6), whose NCAA tournament hopes took a hit despite having already clinched the top seed in the SEC West.

The Tigers, who finish their regular season Saturday afternoon at Alabama, could finish anywhere from the third to fifth in the SEC West when the conference tournament bracket is set.

Auburn sent the out-dated, yet historic Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum out in style. The school recognized former greats, including women's coach Joe Ciampi, the arena's all-time wins leader, during breaks in the game.

After the game, a host of former Auburn standouts helped cut down the nets. Wally Tinker, who made the first basket in the coliseum against LSU on Jan. 11, 1969, made the final one as well, banking in an old-school six-footer as the remaining crowd stood and cheered.

"In (41) years there have been so many memories in this place," said Lebo, who said the pressure to win was so great he felt sick to his stomach. "A lot of people have spent a lot more time coming into this place than I have in my six years. It has a lot of meaning to the people in this area."

The current Tigers did their part to send it out a winner, shooting 52 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3-point range (11-for-24). The 89 points were the second most they've scored in a an SEC game this season.

Waller, who has averaged 26.5 points in his last four games, made six 3-pointers. He's made 27 of his last 38 3-pointers.

"He is a heck of a shooter as it is, but when you play with emotion like he did tonight and make a few shots, that hoop gets real big," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said.

The Bulldogs managed to tie the game at 65 with 9:10 left, but Auburn got a lift from Knox, who got a rare start on Senior Night. The forward went toe-to-toe with all-time NCAA blocks leader Jarvis Varnado in the post, going 7-for-9 from the floor and scoring 13 points in the final nine minutes..

"I played physical," Knox said. "He usually plays more physical than he did tonight. On defense, I went straight at him."

Knox also shook off a slow night at the free throw line, sinking four straight down the stretch when Mississippi State resorted to fouling the 51 percent foul shooter away from the basket. Auburn wasn't great from the line (18-for-31) but made enough to win for third time in the last four games.

"It felt great," Knox said. "We didn't play the whole season like we wanted to, but it was great to finish like this. To send off the coliseum like this felt real good."


AUsome04 said...

Hey Andy, I went to the game tonight and helped send the place out in style. I've watched them play most of the season but I know you've seen more games than me. For the life of me, I just don't see the logic of sitting Knox instead of starting him. Do you? Lett's no more than a role player.

A contrast in their play was demonstrated when Lett was fed that pretty pass underneath the basket but fumbled the ball. I'm with our coach all the way but I've always wondered why not start Brendan. Yeah he fouls but what big man doesn't. Hopefully Knox starts the rest of the way.

ExKnightMike said...

I was there last night, a guest as one of those that had attended the first game in 1969. Me, I'm the same as always but man! My classmates and contemporaries have done got old!

I still don't see the need for a new arena, but somebody wanted it and done is done.

It was nice to mingle on the floor after the game and see the old players. Mengelt looks like he could suit up and play today.

War Eagle and RIP Beard-Eaves!

Andy Bitter said...

I think Lebo starts Lett because Knox gets too worked up when he starts and gets into foul trouble too quick. Some guys just need that mental break of not being out there right away. I think Knox is one of them.