Allen Payne’s disbelief was genuine Wednesday night.
Before Auburn coach Tony Barbee faced the cameras for his postgame interview near half court after a 68-63 win against LSU, his players were already tucked away in Auburn Arena’s home locker room. They didn’t see Barbee glowing as he interacted with students, even stopping during one answer to acknowledge their chants.
They couldn’t know the coach that shouts constantly, pushes to correct every mistake and struggles to smile was actually, perhaps for once, happy.
“He was happy?” Payne asked, eyes wide. “I didn’t see that.”
Yeah, Barbee was happy.
Auburn (7-7, 1-0) opened SEC play with a win for the first time in six years, which made Barbee 1-0 in the conference for the first time in his tenure on the Plains. It did so executing Barbee’s defense-first brand of basketball almost flawlessly in the second half.
Auburn held LSU (10-3, 0-1) to 25-of-67 (37.3 percent) shooting from the field, and 9-of-27 (33.3 percent) from behind the 3-point arc. Shavon Coleman, LSU’s leading scorer entering with 14.1 points per game, had a season-low 4 points.
After falling behind 33-27 one minute into the second half, Barbee called timeout. He couldn’t repeat what he told his team, he said. Too many dirty words. But after the timeout, Auburn’s defense clamped down.
Auburn used an 18-3 run midway through the second half to take control of the game. It never trailed through the final 13:44.
“We’re getting closer. We’re getting closer,” Barbee said. “The part that we’re getting closer at is the grittiness that you’ve got to play with, the toughness, that fighting spirit no matter what the situation that’s happening in the game. Early on, we didn’t have that. We would let any adversity that hit affect and linger on way too long, so we couldn’t get over the hump.
“Now, no matter what’s taken place, the guys continue to fight. That’s all I’ve been preaching. That’s all I’ve been harping on. It’s starting to come together.”
Payne continued his streaking offense, following a career high in Auburn’s final nonconference game with 15 points against LSU. It was his third straight game scoring in double figures.
Freshman guard Shaq Johnson added 11 points and nine rebounds in what he said was his best game. Johnson said he was spurred on by some LSU trash talking.
“I came in the game ready to play hard,” Johnson said. “He was talking trash, but I just kept trying to play hard and tried to ignore it.”
Payne couldn’t ignore Barbee’s expression when he entered the locker room for his postgame chat.
The smile had vanished. Barbee was serious, looking forward. The Tigers will try to win their third straight game — tying a season-long streak — Saturday when they travel South Carolina.
All Barbee could think about was how his team could take its level of play to the road.
“Coach is a perfectionist, and he expects us to perform at our max level and to try to be perfect,” Payne said. “He knows you can’t be, but that’s the way he tries to get us to strive for. He came in after the game and he said, ‘Good job, way to start (with) the lead, but we have to meet tomorrow afternoon, and we have to do some stuff to get ready for South Carolina.’
“He’s looking ahead and seeing the big picture, knowing that this is a good win for us, but we still have a ways to go if we want to do something good this year.”
Ryan Wood is the Auburn University Sports Beat Writer for the Opelika-Auburn News.
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