Todd Van Emst
Chris Denson had his third consecutive big game since becoming academically eligible for Auburn.
In his third game since returning from academic ineligibility, Denson continued to impress for Auburn (5-5). The sophomore guard scored 20 points -- one off tying a career-high -- on 5 of 11 shooting and 9 of 10 free throws. Denson added five rebounds, two steals and an assist. He's averaging 16.7 points and shooting 63.0 percent from the floor, and Denson has given a much needed jolt to the Tigers' offense. While he was out, Auburn was 2-5 and averaging 62.1 points per game, but with Denson, the Tigers are 3-0 and scoring 79.0 per contest. Part of that is likely due to the opponents Denson and Auburn have faced: Grambling State, Furman and Tennessee Tech, but it's obvious that Auburn is a much better team with Denson on the court.
The highlight of the night for Denson was a tomahawk dunk over Matt Marseille that earned a No. 1 ranking in SportsCenter's top plays.
Denson wasn't the only star for Auburn against the Golden Eagles, as Price scored 12 points and hit 3 of 3 from behind the three-point line. His early threes gave Price 11 straight makes over the last three games, tying an SEC record set by Vanderbilt's Kevin Anglin in 1992. In addition to his 12 points, Price contributed two rebounds, one steal and one block in 17 minutes.
Josh Wallace had a nice night for the Tigers, scoring 11 points and dishing out seven assists, while Asauhn Dixon-Tatum chipped in with five points and eight rebounds. Shaquille Johnson filled up the stat sheet with nine points, two rebounds, two steals, a block and an assist.
Jud Dillard scored 22 points to lead the Golden Eagles (6-5), and he added seven rebounds, two steals and one assist. Dennis Ogbe had 14 points and seven rebounds, and Anthony Morse compiled eight points, seven rebounds, three blocks, two steals and an assist. No other player for Tennessee Tech scored more than five points.
It may have been a 19-point victory for Auburn, but the Tigers were not without their flaws. They shot 43.1 percent from the field as a team, which is far from great, and they didn't really do a good job on the boards. Auburn outrebounded Tech, 38-36, a margin that was closer than it probably should have been. Far too often, the Tigers gave up offensive rebounds (17 for TTU) and second chances to the Golden Eagles, who may have kept the game much closer had they been able to consistently convert those second chances. Auburn played sloppy at times, especially at the beginning of each half, turning the ball over -- the Tigers finished with 17 -- or taking quick, low-percentage shots.
But, the Tigers deserve plenty of credit, too. Auburn, Shaq Johnson specifically, did a nice job of driving the lane and getting to the basket. That resulted in 40 -- 40! -- free throw attempts, of which the Tigers made 30. Any night a team can score 30 points from the foul line, it's going to have a great chance at winning. In addition to drawing plenty of fouls, Auburn didn't commit too many, just 18. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Tigers' big win was that they achieved it without much help from Frankie Sullivan. Sullivan scored just five points, all from the free throw line, and Auburn still won comfortably. A few games ago, it didn't look like that would be possible for this team. Thankfully, the Tigers are finally able to rely on other players for offensive production.
Next up for Auburn is a home game against Winthrop on Saturday at 7 p.m. The game against the Eagles will be the final tune-up before the Tigers travel to Chicago to face -- gulp -- No. 10 Illinois at the United Center. With three straight wins, all by 14 or more points, Auburn seems to be on the right track. When the Tigers meet the Fighting Illini, we'll see just how far this team has come.