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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Auburn's season is over; attention turns to coach Jeff Lebo's future with the program

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Auburn’s season is over and so too might be coach Jeff Lebo’s time on the Plains.

Auburn lost 78-69 to Florida on Thursday in the opening round of the SEC tournament at Bridgestone Arena, ending the Tigers’ season at 15-17 and possibly Lebo’s six-year run as coach.

Lebo, whose record at Auburn is 96-93, plans to meet with athletics director Jay Jacobs soon to discuss his future with the program. He has three years remaining on a contact that pays him $785,000 annually. His contract has a $1.5 million buyout.

The situation was the furthest thing from his mind afterward.

“We’ll meet like we always do at the end, like most head coaches and ADs meet,” Lebo said. “We’ll have our discussion. That will be private. It will happen at some point here soon, I’m sure.”

He balked at a reporter’s question about assessing his body of work.

“We just got done with the game, so I haven’t really thought about the body of work after this game,” Lebo said. “Probably not the best time to ask that question.”

It was the fourth time in six years that Lebo’s Tigers have bowed out in the first round of the SEC tournament and perfectly summed up the season: Auburn looked bad early, scratched its way back but ultimately came up short.

The Tigers rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit, getting as close as one in the second half, but they never got over the hump. The Gators (21-11) fended off every off every Auburn charge, getting 24 points from Alex Tyus and 21 from Chandler Parsons to perhaps punch their NCAA tournament.

It was the first time in SEC play this season that the Tigers failed to lead or pull even in the second half of a game.

Auburn guard Frankie Sullivan, the only non-senior starter, shook off the aftereffects of a concussion he suffered two weeks ago, scoring a career-high 27 points. He hadn’t topped 20 since November.

“I told Frankie, you need to look to score for us out there tonight,” Lebo said. “We need you to be aggressive shooting the basketball. We need you to look for your shot more.

“If I knew all I had to do was say that and he was going to get (27) points, I’d have done it all year.”

DeWayne Reed added 18, but Auburn didn’t bring its shooting touch to Nashville. The Tigers went 4-for-25 from 3-point range.

Senior Tay Waller, who scored 20 or more points in the previous five games, did not score a point, going 0-for-6 from the field.

“It’s very tough, because I know I could have helped my team out way more than what I did,” Waller said. “I feel like I let everyone down. It just hurts right now.”

“He was heartbroken after the game,” Lebo said. “I told him I’m proud of him. He’s given us a lot of great memories, and tonight just wasn’t his night.”

The game was barely over when talk turned to Lebo’s future. Although they won’t have a role in the decision-making process, the Tigers were unanimous in wanting their coach to stay.

“I haven’t heard too much about it, but in my opinion he’s a great coach,” senior Lucas Hargrove said. “I think he should get many more years. ...

“Last season, we had a great season and truth is, this season didn’t quite turn out how we wanted it to, be but we lost a lot of seniors last year. This year the seniors stepped up as best as we could. I think he’s a great coach and, going into the new arena, I feel like he should definitely have a chance.”

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