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November 25, 2011AUBURN - Auburn set a school record with 17 blocked shots as it rolled to a 78-57 win over Nicholls State on Friday in Auburn Arena to remain unbeaten. The 17 blocks by the Tigers was just one shy of the SEC record set by Arkansas in 1996.
"It is hard to be upset with a win, but like any coach you always nit-pick," head coach Tony Barbee said. "We would like to do a little bit better. A win is a win. We have just got to keep getting better. With that big of a lay-off it is hard to be as sharp as you want them to be offensively. Now, we start to get back in the rhythm of playing games."
Auburn is 3-0 for the first time since 2006, and it remains one of three unbeaten squads in the SEC.
Varez Ward paced the Tigers with career-highs of 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting and eight rebounds to go along with five assists and three steals. The sophomore was one of five Tigers in double figures.
"I try to be as efficient as possible," Ward said. "Not only did I put up the points, but I also was able to cut down on the turnovers and improve my free throw percentages. I was just trying not to turn the ball over, and I also knew that I had been struggling at the line. So, those were some things that I had been working on the week."
Frankie Sullivan scored 13 points and Allen Payne had 11, while Chris Denson and Josh Wallace each chipped in 10 off the bench. Rob Chubb and Willy Kouassi each had five blocks while Kenny Gabriel added four.
Auburn pulled away with a 19-5 run midway through the second half to push its advantage to 60-42. A three-point play by Gabriel widened the Auburn lead to 68-46 with eight minutes to go. The senior scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds.
The first 10 points for Auburn came off Nicholls State turnovers as the Tigers jumped out to a 10-1 lead. The Tigers forced the Colonels into 17 total turnovers and turned that into 22 points.
Gabriel slammed home a miss to start an 8-2 first-half run that was capped by a three-point play from Chubb. A lay-up from Sullivan gave Auburn a 26-13 lead with 10 minutes left before the intermission.
Nicholls State (1-5) cut the Auburn lead down to just a point at 33-32 with less than two minutes before halftime. The Tigers responded with a 6-1 run to close the first half and they went into the break with a 39-33 lead.
The Tigers pulled away in the second half behind some hot shooting from distance. After connecting on just 1-of-14 attempts from 3-point range in the first half, Auburn sank 5-of-8 from deep as well as shooting 46.4 percent (13-of-28) from the field after halftime.
Chris Talkington led Nicholls State with 20 points. Trevon Lewis added a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
After a 10-day layoff, Auburn returns to action as it plays host to Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Monday at 7 pm Central.