Nashville, Tenn.--As his team prepares for Thursday evening’s SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament opening round game vs. Florida, Auburn coach Jeff Lebo says talk about his job security is not what is on his mind.
Asked if he is concerned about his status as AU’s coach after his team has posted a 15-16 record in the regular season, Lebo says, “No, I am focused on this team, and I am focused on the tournament, focused on Florida. That is my total focus. That is where all my energy is going right now, to these kids.
“As in most cases, I think, when the season us over, I will sit down with my AD (Athletic Director Jay Jacobs) when the season’s complete and we will have a conversation at that point, but that is it, that is kind of where it is right now.”
Auburn’s opponent, Florida, brings a 20-11 overall record into Thursday’s game at the Bridgestone Center. The Gators are 9-7 in the league and the four seed from the SEC East. Auburn is 6-10 in the league and five seed from the West. No team from the SEC West has a win over the top four teams from the East this season.
The game is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. CST with coverage on the SEC Network.
TV Stations Carrying the Game
“I think it is important for us, obviously, the way we play, to shoot the ball from the perimeter,” Lebo says. His team is making 34.7 percent of its threes and is connecting on an average of 8.6 per game, which ranks 12th nationally.
“What presents so many problems for us is Florida's balance,” the Auburn coach says. “They have got five guys who can score the ball, five guys that average double figures, so that balance presents a lot of problems. But our kids are excited about playing them, excited about being here and we have got a very tough matchup in our first round against Florida.”
Auburn’s top three-point threat, guard Tay Waller, has hit 31 of his last 54 three-point attempts. Unless the Tigers win the SEC Tournament for the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, or least get to the finals and sneak in for an NIT bid, their season will be finished with a loss in Nashville.
“We know we have got to give our best effort right now because right now we have got to win the games,” Waller says. “As a senior I don't want my season to end right now so we are trying to bring the freshmen up to par with the seniors so we can play hard.
Tay Waller is averaging 15.9 points per game for the Tigers despite being limited early in the season with an injury that forced him to miss six games.
“We know there were a lot of close games with the top four teams in the East, and we know we could have at least won all of them, but right now we have just got to stick it out and play hard,” Waller adds.
Coach Billy Donovan’s Gators feature all five starters scoring more than 10 points per contest led by 6-2 freshman guard Kenny Boynton at 13.5 points per game and 5-8 sophomore guard Erving Walker with 12.7 points per game and 5.0 assists.
Chandler Parsons, a 6-9, 215 senior, is scoring 12 points per contest with 6.8 rebounds. Alex Tyus, a 6-8, 220 junior, is averaging 11.8 points and 7.0 rebounds. Vernon Macklin, a 6-10, 240 junior, is scoring 10.7 points per outing and pulling in 5.6 rebounds per game.
In the regular season matchup, Florida won 78-70 in Gainesville with the difference coming at the foul line where the Gators made 32-40 free throws. Florida only scored one field goal in the final 11 minutes and 25 seconds of that game, but took care of business at the foul line.
“Mostly the (Florida) guards ran into our big men a lot on the edges so we have been working hard in practice to cut down on that,” Waller says of the foul-fest in Gainesville. “Hopefully, we can stop fouling. We can play much better when we don’t foul.”
Waller scored 13 vs. the Gators and teammate Dewayne Reed led all scorers with 22 points in the regular season matchup at Florida. Parsons led the Gators in that game with 17 points.
Auburn defeated Florida 61-58 in the opening round of last year’s SEC Tournament in Tampa, Fla.
Premium Subscription Signup
Subscribe to Magazine Only