ATLANTA — Tony Barbee was one-and-done again in the SEC Tournament, and he’s done as Auburn’s men’s basketball coach.
South Carolina, a team Auburn had beaten twice during the regular season, hit 11 of 15 3-pointers Wednesday and handed Auburn its fourth one-and-done in this tournament in Barbee’s four seasons, 74-56, in the Georgia Dome.
Within two hours after the game ended, Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs tweeted his decision on Barbee’s future.
“I’ve made my decision tonight to move our men’s basketball program in a new direction,” he said on his Twitter account, @jayjacobsauad .
I've made the decision tonight to move our men's basketball program in a new direction. http://t.co/zxq8Pu75cp— Jay Jacobs (@jayjacobsauad) March 13, 2014
Jacobs explained his decision in the story.
“After careful evaluation of the last four years, I feel that this is best for the program,” he said. He said the search for Barbee’s replacement will begin immediately.
“I believe we should compete for championships in men’s basketball,” Jacobs was quoted as saying. “It’s time for somebody else to have a turn.
“We need to find somebody to come in here and take what we have here now and put some more in and compete for SEC titles.”
Jacobs said he informed Barbee after Wednesday’s game.
Auburn, which hasn’t had a winning season under Barbee but has had two 20-loss seasons, will finish 14-16, 6-13 in games against SEC competition. This comes a year after Auburn went 9-23 overall and won only three SEC games, prompting Jacobs to say he needed to see “significant improvement.”
When asked how frustrating the season has been, Barbee emphasized the positives after Wednesday’s game.
“It hasn’t been frustrating at all,” he said. “Obviously, as a competitor, I don’t want to lose any games, and we had our opportunities to have a better record than we ended up having, but this season was a bounce-back year from the previous year.
“We won more games than the previous year. We doubled our SEC wins. Our overall season ticket sales were way above last year’s. Our RPI was double what it was before, so there’s a bunch of positives to take out of this year.”
Barbee said he believes he did enough this season to save his job, “but that obviously is not in my hands.”
Auburn’s seniors --- who managed not to be among the nine Barbee signees to not finish their eligibility at Auburn --- came to Barbee’s defense.
Senior guard Chris Denson, a second-team All-SEC pick, praised Barbee for sticking with him after Denson wound up having to pass 19 hours to gain eligibility earlier in his career.
“I respect him,” Denson said. “I know he’s going to turn this program around. They have a great point guard in Tahj (Shamsid-Deen) and KT (Harrell), so I know this program is going to get on the right track.”
Senior forward Allen Payne described the job Barbee has done over four seasons as “courageous.”
“It’s a tough job here at Auburn,” Payne said, “and I’ve noticed that, during the four years that I’ve been here, that he’s a competitor, very passionate about his job and helping us grow outside of basketball.
“I think the biggest thing he teaches us is, life is tough. I think he’s done a great job of highlighting that for us.”
As the two players departed Wednesday’s postgame news conference, Payne patted Barbee on the right shoulder. The coach stayed behind to answer more questions.
As for the game, South Carolina guard Duane Notice and center Laimonas Chekevicius came off the bench to score 23 and 11 points, respectively, and the Gamecocks underscored Auburn’s weak depth with a 34-9 edge in bench points.
Notice went 4-for-4 behind the 3-point arc, and Brenton Williams was 4-for-6 en route to 16 points. Sindarius Thornwell (10 points) added two treys, and Michael Carrera hit one.
In losing to Auburn 79-74 on Feb. 5 and 83-67 on Feb. 26, South Carolina went a combined 13-for-37 on threes.
“Tough end to the conference tournament, having beaten this team twice this year, at home and on their court,” Barbee said. “It was tough to overcome the shooting night we had (38.1) percent, and give them credit. A team that hasn’t shot the ball particularly well from three all year makes 11 of them this game.”
South Carolina also amassed a 39-25 rebounding edge and 22-6, with 17 offensive rebounds and a 22-6 spread on second-chance points.
The Gamecocks (13-19), who will play Arkansas at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, also made the most of Auburn’s 16 turnovers, outscoring the Tigers 23-13 off turnovers. South Carolina had 15 turnovers.
Denson led Auburn with 14 points, but he was just 3-for-6 from the field against the Gamecocks, who settled into a 2-3 zone after opening man-to-man and switching 1-3-1 early. He hit eight of 10 free throws.
“They definitely clogged the paint more this game,” Denson said. “The first two games, I feel like I was tiptoeing to the hole, but they definitely scouted well, and they definitely took my driving lanes away.” Harrell added 13 points.