Sometimes, it’s not your night. Tonight was one of those occasions. At Arkansas, when you’re short-handed, on senior night. That’s a tough draw anyway, and the Tigers weren’t able to hang with the Razorbacks, falling 91-82. Auburn now stands at 24-6 overall, 12-5 in the SEC with one game left to play this weekend.
Auburn quickly realized that the biggest obstacle was the emotional surge a senior night atmosphere can bring. Arkansas hit four threes in the opening sequence, and Daniel Gafford controlled the paint with several dunks thanks to foul trouble by the Tigers. Horace Spencer spent time on the bench in the first half with three fouls, meaning that Bruce Pearl even brought Cole Blackstock onto the floor late in the period to help provide a little rest for the rest of the post players.
Auburn trailed by as much as thirteen in the first half, but Mustapha Heron’s long three at the buzzer cut the intermission deficit to ten at 52-42. Arkansas shot better than 53% from the floor overall, and went 7-10 from three before halftime in building that ten point lead. Meanwhile, the Tigers shot just 34% and went 3-14 from downtown in that same time frame. The only area that Auburn controlled things was at the free throw line, where they went 17-19 to keep the deficit down to just ten.
Out of the locker room, things looked bleak as Gafford scored three straight buckets, then Daryl Macon hit a three to build a 61-42 lead for Arkansas. Auburn regrouped, and ran off an 12-2 run into the first media timeout to cut the margin back to single digits. With 7:32 to play, Arkansas had built an 80-65 lead, and Horace Spencer was called for his fifth foul. At that time, the Razorbacks were 10-15 from three, while Auburn clanked open shots left and right.
Mustapha Heron did everything he could with 28 points, but it wasn’t nearly enough with Arkansas’ seniors and the freshman Gafford pouring in points in droves. Gafford scored 21 points on 10-15 shooting to go along with 8 blocks. Senior guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon combined for 36 points in the win.
Now, Auburn needs to either win on Saturday, or hope that Tennessee loses to claim the SEC regular season championship. The Tigers will either be the 1 or 2 seed in St. Louis, but it all depends on the outcome this weekend. Auburn will be at home against South Carolina Saturday, with tipoff coming at 2:30 pm CST.