Auburn Basketball had Arkansas on the ropes in the Arena tonight but couldn't finish the job. The Tigers led by as much as 12 points in the second half yet let the Hogs (18-11) come back to take a 77-71 victory.
Auburn came out firing on all cylinders and at one point in the first period led by 17 points. After a 5-4 early Razorback lead, the Tigers jumped out in front and led most of the game; at least till the 5:52 mark when guard Julysses Nobles hit a 3-pointer to go up by one point. The teams then traded punches till the last two minutes when Auburn went cold and was outscored by the Hogs 12-3.
The Tigers certainly could have used a spark too, as well as some fresh legs late in the game to offset the Arkansas rotation. Coach Barbee revealed afterwards that both were suspended for violating team rules.
However, the real problem this evening was not the loss of two key players. It was the same problem this bunch has had all season - poor shooting.
Although Auburn shot close to 60 percent in the first half, the Tigers could only muster 37.5 percent in the second. And in the final two minutes, when it mattered most, it looked like Auburn couldn't buy a basket from the foul line. They finished with 13 of 24 free throws for the evening.
Coach Barbee said that Arkansas' 58 percent shooting average in the second half was aided by Auburn's play...
"I think it says we gave them a lot of confidence. We had them on the ropes. We just don't have the team here yet to put that kind of team away. We gave them confidence based on how we performed when we got up 17."
The fact that Auburn doesn't have the kind of team to put an opponent away when they have them on the ropes has been evident all season. However, because of sheer heart and determination there was still a slim chance going into today's game for Auburn to get a bid to the NIT.
Now with two games left, the Tigers (14-14) are playing for a winning season and an SEC Tournament seed. They will have to beat Alabama on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Tuscaloosa or defeat LSU next Saturday at home to finish at 500.
Nevertheless I am still encouraged by the progress Coach Barbee has made with these Tigers and I believe he has laid a foundation for a solid program.