Just as quickly as Auburn found itself 2-0 in SEC play, the Tigers are 2-2 and in danger of seeing the season go off the rails. Auburn certainly has the ability to stop the bleeding, but tough matchups this week won't make it easy.
Following two wins to start league play, one had to wonder what was next for the Tigers. After only the fifth road win in Tony Barbee's tenure on the Plains, the Tigers headed west to Fayetteville. Nine lead changes, eleven ties and two overtimes later, the Tigers came up on the short end of an 88-80 decision at Arkansas.
Frankie Sullivan had 26 points and a career high nine rebounds. Rob Chubb posted his second consecutive Chubble Double with 12 points and 11 boards, and Allen Payne connected on a three-point shot with five seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime. Down by four in the first overtime, Noel Johnson hit a three with just under a minute and a half to go. Sullivan had a layup in with 41 seconds left on the clock for a one-point lead, but the Tigers committed a foul, and Madracus Wade was good on one free-throw to send the game into its second overtime. Fatigue set in for the Tigers, and Arkansas outscored Auburn, 13-5, to take the victory.
The Tigers outscored the Razorbacks in the paint (34-28), off second chances (10-8) and on the fast break (9-4). Despite allowing a 17-0 run and falling behind by 11 in the first half, Auburn rallied and held a lead as large as six in the second half. However, the Tigers' hot shooting from the field (50.0 percent) and from behind the arc (44.0) could not compensate for an abysmal 7-of-17 from the foul line. Arkansas hit just 45.5 percent of its shots from the field and 33.3 percent from behind the arc, but the Razorbacks made 20-of-33 from the free throw stripe.
For all the strides made in generating offense without Chris Denson and Jordan Price, there were still defensive breakdowns throughout the game in Fayetteville, and Auburn struggled at times with Arkansas' full court press. The Tigers turned the ball over 19 times, and the Razorbacks took full advantage and scored 20 points off turnovers. Arkansas only had eight turnovers, with Auburn scoring just nine points from those. Auburn committed 24 personal fouls, as Payne and Chubb both fouled out in the second overtime.
Knowing exhaustion could play a role in the performance on Saturday, the Tigers were still expected to play well at home against the Kentucky Wildcats. At the half, Auburn only trailed by five points, despite shooting 32.4 percent from the field, missing all 11 of its three-point attempts. That's mainly because Kentucky couldn't buy a bucket, either, hitting just 42.9 percent of its shots and 1-of-10 three-pointers. However, the Wildcats cranked it up in the second half, knocking down 18-of-27 from the field and 4-of-5 from behind the arc in the final 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Auburn's offensive woes continued, as the Tigers made 12-of-32 from the field and 0-of-4 from the perimeter.
Auburn faltered in every way offensively, as the Tigers had good looks throughout the game but couldn't connect. The Wildcats outscored the Tigers 40-30 in the paint, 15-9 off turnovers, 13-10 off second-chance points and 4-2 off the fast break. The early return of both Chris Denson and Jordan Price did little to spark Auburn as both went scoreless, and honestly, neither looked ready to be back on the court. Auburn's big men were the only things resembling bright spots, as Chubb scored 14 points on 7-of-13 shooting and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum added 10 (4-of-4 from the field, 2-of-2 from the free throw line).
As Auburn moves forward, it is hard to know what to expect. When the defense started to take shape over the course of the three-game stretch against FSU, LSU and South Carolina, Wednesday night in Fayetteville happened. Just as the offense started to cook without a heavy dependence on Sullivan and in the absence of Denson and Price, Saturday night at home happened.
Now, Auburn is on a two-game losing streak that could easily turn into four if the Tigers aren't careful. Auburn travels to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt Wednesday, and while the Commodores aren't good this season, a game at the quirky Memorial Gym can turn into a nightmare quickly. After that, it's back home for a Saturday contest against an Ole Miss team that currently sits at 15-2 -- 4-0 in SEC play -- and has the conference's leading scorer in Marshall Henderson (18.9 points per game). If the Tigers don't right the ship, the season could go downhill quickly.