Auburn 84, North Florida 71

Varez Ward scored 17 points and Kenny Gabriel had Auburn’s first

double-double of the season as the Tigers pulled away at the end of

an 84-71 win over North Florida on Saturday night.

Auburn (6-1) is off to its best start since the 2003-04 team

opened 7-1.

The Tigers led 71-69 with 3:42 to go when Josh Wallace hit a

layup and Frankie Sullivan knocked down all three free throws after

being fouled on a 3-pointer with 2:33 left to give Auburn all the

breathing room it would need.

”Nobody is content with a 6-1 record,” Ward said. ”We all

feel that we’re supposed to be 7-0.”

Gabriel finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, Chris Denson

scored 14 and Sullivan had 13.

Foul trouble was a theme throughout the evening, as the teams

combined to commit 56 fouls and shoot 68 free throws.

Neither had much success from the line, though, as Auburn hit 28

of 43 (65.1 percent) and North Florida was 11 of 25 (44.0

percent).

After starting the game only 14 of 26 from the line, the Tigers

connected on 14 of 17 free throws in the last nine minutes.

”We got there. That’s about all I can say positive about the

foul line,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. ”I allow them to be

selfish in two areas: rebounding and free throws. I want them to be

selfish pigs in those areas. I want you to go to the free-throw

line and make them all.

”We closed them out, which is good, but I want more.”

The Tigers built a 43-36 lead with a Ward layup to polish off a

10-0 run with 18:32 left, but North Florida answered with an 11-4

run to tie the game at 47 on an Andy Diaz baby hook with 13:35 to

go.

Auburn fashioned another seven-point lead at 65-58 with 6:36 to

go, but couldn’t shake the Ospreys until the final moments.

Travis Wallace led North Florida (5-6) with 13 points and Diaz

scored 11.

North Florida hung close with Miami before losing 75-62 on Nov.

19 and took Kansas State to overtime before losing 79-68 on Sunday,

its last outing before the Auburn game.

”When we guard well, we’re as good as anybody,” Ospreys coach

Matthew Driscoll said. ”We might not be as good as some of the

high-ranked teams, but the teams like Miami, Kansas State, Auburn –

the programs that aren’t big-time programs – we can guard against

those guys. The only things we struggled with were key

turnovers.”

Guards Cedrick McAfee, Josh Langford and Tony Neysmith and

forward Noel Johnson were available to the Tigers for the first

time this season Saturday night.

Langford and Neysmith were suspended for the first six games for

an undisclosed violation of team rules and McAfee was nursing a

foot injury. Johnson sat out the first semester due to transfer

rules after coming over from Clemson, then was held out Wednesday

with a hand injury.

Langford was the only member of the quartet to play against

North Florida, scoring seven points in 12 minutes.

Auburn, in stark contrast to its 52-point performance against

South Florida on Wednesday, had little trouble scoring in the first

half. The only trouble was North Florida kept pace.

The teams traded baskets for much of the first half, with

neither side building a lead of more than six points for the first

17 minutes.

Jerron Granberry hit a 3-pointer to give the Ospreys a 34-31

lead with 2:39 to go in the first half, but the Tigers scored the

last six points of the half – four of them coming on back-to-back

Denson layups – to go into the half up 39-36.

Gabriel topped his season high in the first 20 minutes, scoring

14 points to go along with seven rebounds, and Denson scored

seven.

Wallace scored nine points on 4-of-4 shooting for the Ospreys in

the first half, and Fred Landers topped his career high with eight

points in the first half.

North Florida shot 45.5 percent (5 of 11) from 3-point range in

the first half.