"I thought we played decent offensively," head coach Tony Barbee said. "I thought the issue tonight was our maturation and growth that this team has to go through. We got complacent coming off McNeese State. This is not about, not in an arrogant way, our opponents this time of year. This is about us. This is about our growth, our maturation and our season."
Despite shooting close to 50 percent from the field for most of the night and finishing the game at 46.2 percent (24-of-52), Auburn allowed Kennesaw State to stay within striking distance because of 17 turnovers.
After the Owls cut the Auburn lead down to seven points at 53-47 with less than seven minutes remaining, Chris Denson answered with a trey to widen the lead back to 10. Sullivan followed up with his fifth 3-pointer of the night for a 59-46 advantage and five minutes to go.
"I like the way we responded, but we shouldn't have been in that position in the first place," Barbee said. "That is the issue with it that I have. That goes back to the maturity of this team. We did respond, but we can't afford to take anybody for granted."
Gabriel's dunk followed by a 3-pointer from Sullivan gave Auburn a 16-9 lead with 12 minutes left in the first half. The Tigers went up by as many as eight, but Kennesaw State worked the deficit to five with three minutes remaining before the intermission.
Auburn opened the second half with a 12-1 run fueled by full-court pressure and hot shooting. The Tigers sandwiched the run with 3-pointers by Allen Payne and Sullivan as they took a 41-21 lead with 16:29 to go.
"I would say offensively I'm back to where I want to be, but defensively I'm not where I want to be," Sullivan said. "Everybody who knows me knows what I'm about and I don't think I did a great job helping my team out on defense. I think I was slow getting to the ball, but that has a lot to do with me getting back in the shape and being out for so long. I think that's going to come back in due time."
Kennesaw State answered with a run of their own, a 17-6 spurt that cut the Auburn advantage to single digits, but the Tigers responded with consecutive baskets by Ward and Denson to halt the run and give their team the 51-38 lead with 10:24 left in the game.
Kennesaw State (0-2) was led by 13 points and 13 rebounds from Aaron Anderson. The Owls finished the game shooting just 32.7 percent (18-of-55) from the field.