Auburn, Ala.--Chris Denson said he is looking forward to his Auburn basketball team starting Southeastern Conference play as the Tigers take on the Ole Miss Rebels on Thursday.
Tipoff is set for shortly after 6 p.m. on Thursday from the Tad Smith Coliseum on the Ole Miss campus.
“We had a long week of practice getting prepared for the SEC opener,” said senior guard Chris Denson, who is averaging 19 points per contest. “We are coming off good wins and we are feeling good.”
The Tigers come into the contest with an 8-3 record and a four-game winning streak after defeating Florida A&M 81-50 on Saturday. Ole Miss is 9-4 following an 83-80 overtime loss at home to Dayton.
Asked how the Tigers have improved as a team in the past month, the senior guard said, “Everyone is understanding their roles now and we are dominating our roles, not just performing our roles. I think we are playing great basketball and I’m looking forward to the game against Ole Miss.”
A key to Auburn’s winning streak has been improved shooting. During the four wins the Tigers have combined to make 116-223 field goals for 52.0 percent.
Asked why the shooting has improved, Denson said, “As a result of just being in gym. We see the open shots we miss on film and we looked over at the misses and Coach (Tony Barbee) said they weren’t bad shots, they were good shots. He said as soon as SEC hits we have got to make all of those shots.”
Denson goes into the SEC play making 51.1 percent of his field goals, which ranks ninth in the SEC. Denson teams will junior K.T. Harrell, who is leading the SEC in scoring at 19.4 points per game, to give the Tigers a strong one-two offensive punch from the guard positions.
K.T. Harrell shoots for the Tigers.
With Andy Kennedy as coach at Ole Miss the Rebels normally play a physical style of basketball. Although the personnel has changed since last year, Denson said he is expecting more of the same. “The first SEC game tempers are flaring, everything is going to be physical, the crowd is going to be wild in there,” he predicts. “I like our chances. I like how our team is playing. I can’t wait.”
The contest will be televised on ESPN2 as the Rebels look to knock off the visitors despite missing their leading scorer, Marshall Henderson, who is suspended for the next two games. Henderson is averaging 18.8 points per contest.
“We are not going in there complacent since he is not playing,” Denson said. “We are not thinking we can walk in there and have an easy cake-walk to beat them. They have Jarvis Summers, Derrick Millinghaus and are still a tough team.
“It’s a plus that he’s not playing, but we are still going in there with the same mentality and same attitude,” Denson added.
Jarvis Summers has made a big jump as a scorer from last year to this season.
Summers is averaging 17.8 points per game and the 6-3 junior guard scored a career-high 29 points vs. Dayton. Millinghaus, a 5-10 sophomore guard, is averaging 10.5 points and 2.8 assists per contest.
Barbee said the Tigers have to prove they can play well away from Auburn Arena. “We haven’t had many road opportunities this year and the ones we have had on the road we haven’t been too successful at,” the coach said. “Here is an opportunity to move past that and erase that memory.
“My approach is always the same, whether you are playing at home or on the road, basketball is the same,” he said. “The same court, the same length and the baskets are the same height. You have to go out there and do what you do better than what your opponent does.”
AU leads the series vs. Ole Miss 74-53, but suffered a pair of losses last season including an 88-55 drubbing in Oxford. The Rebels have won four straight matchups vs. the Tigers, who last won at Ole Miss in 2008.
A key to winning in Oxford where the Rebels have been difficult for many teams to beat in recent years will be to continue the improved shooting. Asked for his take on why the Tigers are coming around with that part of their play, Barbee said, “It is confidence deal. This is the time of the year, with no school, that we can just focus totally on basketball and the guys really worked as a collective unit and as a team, and we have gotten better.
“They have worked individually on their games, too. Collectively we are shooting the ball really well but we have to get some guys shooting better.”