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Auburn's Korvotney Barber (32) shoots over Nicholls State defenders before a mostly empty gymnasium in Auburn on Nov. 28. Official attendance for the game was listed at 3,244.
AP photo by Todd J. Van Emst
Auburn's Korvotney Barber (32) shoots over Nicholls State defenders before a mostly empty gymnasium in Auburn on Nov. 28. Official attendance for the game was listed at 3,244.

Lack of fans in stands disturbing in Auburn

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

Imagine, for a second, your pickup basketball games at the local YMCA gym.

It's just you, the other five or seven players, a basketball and a goal, maybe two.

Now take that scenario and take yourself and the other players out, and put in Auburn's basketball team.

And leave the YMCA and instead play the game in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

There's at least one similarity: A lack of fans.

Auburn thus far has played seven home games.

So far, the Tigers (6-3) have drawn more than 5,000 fans once, Sunday when No. 2 Pittsburgh came to town.

That day, 6,544 folks saw the Tigers nearly pull off the biggest upset of the Jeff Lebo era as Auburn fell 74-66 in a game that was within three points in the final two minutes.

But other than that day, the fans have been few and far between. The sports information department lists the average home attendance at 3,643, but that seems liberal.

Look at most photos from any Auburn game this fall and it's hard to spot who the fans are and who the seats are in the picture.

"It hasn't been great," Lebo, Auburn's third-year head coach said. "We're used to it."

Tonight, Auburn plays in-state rival South Alabama (5-2), a team the Tigers haven't played often. The schools have played a total of eight times, with the series being split down the middle.

But with finals starting at the end of this week and the holiday season right around the corner, the BEMC could once again be empty.

Those not there could miss out on a close contest. South went to the NCAA tournament a year ago, falling to eventual national champions Florida in the opening round. But that game was close at halftime.

"You can tell this year that they have a little bit of a swagger about them because of the success that they had the year before (going to the NCAA Tournament)," Lebo said.

The teams haven't met since 2001, when Auburn downed the Jaguars 73-58 in Auburn.

Next year, Auburn will return the trip to Mobile, playing in the Coors Classic at South Alabama's Mitchell Center.

This is the first time Lebo's team will play South. He wasn't sure why the two universities haven't played more.

"I don't know why," Lebo said. "Probably because they're pretty dadgum good. Maybe I'm not very bright."

Playing South is part of Lebo's effort to ratchet up the schedule to something palatable, something fans will like.

"When I got here, they said you had to bring better nonconference people in to play," Lebo said.

Before Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh, Auburn sophomore forward Korvotney Barber said having support would help the Tigers.

A loud and rambunctious student section, filled to the brim, certainly helped Auburn's efforts, sophomore forward Josh Dollard said Monday.

"That helped a real lot," said Dollard, who rewarded the crowd with a 14-point, 12-rebound game. "The crowd getting behind us, they were real amped. All that extra motivation, that'll help anybody. The crowd behind us, they rattled Pitt too and that helped a lot."

Still, Lebo knows what really puts rear-ends in the seats.

He has to get his team to play winning basketball. That's the only true solution to the problem.

"We haven't been terrific," Lebo said.

"We've been young, been rebuilding. It's hard."

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