Arkansas 83, Auburn 75: What a frustrating game. Anyone that followed along for the duration likely had a nice red streak across their brow thanks to the amount of /facepalms in Wednesday night's contest. Auburn took a two-point advantage into the half, and throughout the game, the Tigers had plenty of opportunities to stretch a lead or shrink a deficit. Instead, a lack of effort on the glass and mental lapses in the half-court resulted another loss to the Razorbacks.
As if the game itself wasn't bad enough, the Arkansas win improved the Razorbacks to 4-22 in their last 26 games away from Bud Walton Arena. Three of those four wins have come against the Tigers. Seriously, Auburn, what the hell?
Tony Barbee's team actually did some good things against Arkansas. The Tigers did a nice job of attacking the rim on offense, instead of relying too heavily on the three-ball, and the strategy paid off with 28 points in the paint and 32 free throws, of which Auburn made 23. When the Tigers did shoot from the perimeter, they were fairly accurate, knocking down 6-of-13. In the first half, Auburn fell down by nine points, but battled back to take a 35-33 lead into the locker room, thanks in large part to making 11-of-12 from the foul line.
Chris Denson had another excellent game, consistently cutting through the lane and scoring 18 points on 6-of-9 from the field and 5-of-8 from the free throw line. Allen Payne, who has come on strong lately, played well at times and pulled down five rebounds, but he only scored eight points on 3-of-10 shooting. Asauhn-Dixon Tatum was once again absent for large stretches, but he blocked three shots and had a nice put-back in the closing seconds of the first half to give Auburn the lead.
As far as individual performances are concerned, those were the lone highlights. We'll get to the disappointments in a minute, but first, let's wallow in the general problems that plagued Auburn on Wednesday.
Frankly, Auburn forgot how to play defense in the second half. After closing out the first 20 minutes strong, holding Arkansas to 3-of-15 from the field over the final 12:30 of the first half, the Tigers let the Hogs shoot 55.2 percent in the second, including 5-of-9 from behind the arc. And it's not like Arkansas was just making tough shots in the face of good "D". The Razorbacks were often wide open for shots from distance or gimmes in the paint. B.J. Young, who entered the game having made 5-of-9 from three in his previous three outings, was left completely uncovered on the perimeter twice, and both times, he drilled back-breaking shots.
The most unbelievably bad sequence of events -- well, if you watch enough Auburn basketball, you'll believe anything bad thing that happens -- a sequence that left salty Auburn fans searching for new swear words and mild-mannered Auburn fans swearing like sailors, came with roughly 11 minutes left in the game. Arkansas led, 50-47, when Young hit an open three-pointer. After two missed shots by Rob Chubb on the offensive end, Marshawn Powell hit a three, and Chubb was simultaneously called for a foul under the basket, giving the Razorbacks another possession. A few seconds later, Mardracus Wade connected on a long-range jumper. In a span of 1 minute and 15 seconds, the Arkansas lead ballooned from three to 12. Auburn battled back a few times down the stretch, but that nine-point swing was basically what decided the outcome.
In addition to an inability to contest shots in the second half, Auburn again faltered on the offensive glass at a key moment. With 46 seconds remaining, Auburn trailed, 76-70, and after a foul, Young missed two free throws. But instead of pulling down a rebound, the Tigers allowed Wade to come away with the ball and finish with a layup. Almost immediately, Shaqille Johnson hit a three at the other end, a three that would have cut the deficit to one possession. But because Auburn couldn't get a rebound after a missed free throw, it was still a two possession game, and it was pretty much over.
Young finished with 25 points to lead the Razorbacks. Powell had 20, and Wade and Rickey Scott each scored 11. No other Arkansas player totaled more than five points in the game.
But hey! Defense wasn't the only issue for Auburn against Arkansas! The Tigers also turned the ball over too many damn times! Honestly, it seemed like every time Auburn forced a turnover, it immediately committed a turnover of its own. The Razorbacks only briefly employed their trademark press, so just about all of those turnovers -- 16 overall and nine in the second half, for anyone keeping score at home -- were of the unforced variety. Bad passes, poor ball-handling and stupid fouls were all contributors, and almost everyone was guilty. Josh Wallace was the only player to finish with more than 12 minutes and zero giveaways.
The biggest individuals who struggled most were the players who should be leading this team down the stretch: seniors Frankie Sullivan and Chubb. The two combined for 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting, 12 rebounds and 10 turnovers. For the first time this year, Sullivan didn't start, as Barbee tried to switch things up and take some pressure off of Auburn's best player. During the Tigers' poor run of play over recent weeks, Sullivan has taken it upon himself to carry the team, and that has led to a drop in his play. In his postgame comments to the media Wednesday, Barbee reiterated that No. 23 has been trying to do too much:
"I'm just searching with Frankie. He's putting way too much pressure on himself, for a senior."
As for Chubb, who was 2-of-8 with five TOs and four fouls in 17 minutes, Barbee wasn't as kind. The senior center played an awful game, and Barbee made that clear:
"I have no idea where he's at. Wasn't here, though."
Obviously, Barbee is frustrated, and judging by the body-language and play of players like Sullivan and Chubb, they're frustrated, too. The losses lead to frustration, which leads to poor play, which leads to more losses, which leads -- well, you get the idea. Auburn has to do some thing to break the cycle, and Wednesday night, that something was as simple as playing with a higher level of effort in the second half. Instead, the Tigers were lazy, and a two-point halftime lead turned into an eight-point loss.
The road doesn't get any easier, as Auburn's next game is at home Saturday against No. 6/7 Florida, the SEC's best team. If the Tigers don't play better than they did against the Razorbacks, they'll get run out of the building.