Auburn takes 1-21 SEC plunge

By: Bob Holt
Published: Friday, January 24, 2014
.Auburn head coach Tony Barbee in the first half against Arkansas Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks won 88-80 in double overtime.
Photo by Anthony Reyes
.Auburn head coach Tony Barbee in the first half against Arkansas Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks won 88-80 in double overtime.

FAYETTEVILLE - Auburn’s basketball team came into Walton Arena last season on a roll.

That’s not the case this year.

Auburn was aiming for its first 3-0 SEC start in a decade when it led Arkansas by five with six minutes to play in regulation one year ago.

But the Razorbacks came back to win 88-80 in double overtime, and Auburn has been skidding ever since.

Starting with last season’s game at Arkansas, the Tigers are 1-21 against SEC opponents, including a loss to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament last year. Their only victory in that span was 49-37 over Alabama on Feb. 6, 2013.

The Tigers (8-8, 0-5), who return to Walton Arena to play Arkansas (12-6, 1-4) at 5 p.m. Saturday, lost 82-74 at Mississippi State on Wednesday night for their school-record 15th consecutive loss against an SEC team.

Junior guard KT Harrell, a transfer from Virginia who led Auburn with 24 points at Mississippi State, said the Tigers will be ready to play at Arkansas.

“We don’t have a choice,” Harrell told reporters. “We have a quick turnaround. We have to let this one go.”

Auburn’s five SEC losses this season have been by an average of 6.2 points, including 65-62 at Ole Miss, 70-68 to Missouri and 68-61 to No. 6 Florida. The Tigers beat Clemson 66-64 and Boston College 77-67 in nonconference home games.

“We’ve played well at home and on the road,” Auburn Coach Tony Barbee said during Monday’s SEC coaches teleconference. “We’ve had our chances.”

Barbee said the players have stayed upbeat.

“The mind-set’s been great,” he said. “This is a different group. We’ve got great chemistry. The guys like playing together. We’re playing hard, we’re playing tough.

“We haven’t had that breakthrough moment, but it’s coming. … We’ve just got stay the course, keep doing what we’re doing, and some things will open up for us.”

Auburn missed its final five shots against Florida last Saturday, including a three-pointer that would have tied the score with a minute to play.

“People are going to tell us, ‘You almost had them. You played really hard and we’re proud of you,’ ” Auburn senior forward Allen Payne told reporters after that game. “We can’t be satisfied with that.

“We weren’t before. We really can’t be now. We’re desperate for a win right now. We battled, but at this point it’s not good enough just to do that. We’ve got to start pulling these close games out.”

Harrell and senior guard Chris Denson have carried the Tigers’ offense, averaging a combined 38.2 points for the season, 37.5 in SEC games. Harrell (19.3 ppg) scored 29 points against Boston College and 27 against Missouri. Denson (18.9 ppg) scored 28 against Ole Miss, 24 against Tennessee and 21 against Florida.

Mississippi State held Denson to nine points, but the Tigers got 17 from freshman point guard Tahi Shamsid-Deen and 12 each from Payne and 7-0 senior center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum.

Auburn’s problem was that all of its scoring came from its starters. Reserves Dion Wade, Alex Thompson, Malcolm Canada and Matthew Atewe combined to play 34 minutes without a point and one rebound.

“We didn’t get any production off the bench. Zero,” Barbee told reporters. “We played with five guys tonight, and that’s disappointing.” AL.com and AuburnTigers.com contributed information for this report.

UP NEXT

ARKANSAS MEN VS. AUBURN WHEN 5 p.m. Saturday WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville RECORDS Arkansas 12-6, 1-4 SEC; Auburn 8-8, 0-5.

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Sports, Pages 23 on 01/24/2014

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