Razorbacks Grit Out Win At Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn just wouldn't go away. Even as Sonny Weems drained second-half jump shots, even as Arkansas imposed its physical will on the Tigers' depleted roster, Auburn just wouldn't quit Thursday night.

The Razorbacks' size, strength and depth eventually overwhelmed the Tigers, but Arkansas' 76-70 victory didn't come without an extreme fight. The Hogs faced early deficits, weathered a first-half offensive flurry and made play after play down the stretch.

After reveling in the locker room with his jubilant Hogs, John Pelphrey embraced his first Southeastern Conference game — and victory — as a head coach.

"This was a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to start, and win, on the road," Pelphrey said. "Auburn has obviously had some adversity with injuries, but they also have a lot of experience. Their guys played really, really hard. We knew they'd have a lot of energy and emotion.

"I'm not surprised at all with how hard it was to win."

His players weren't either. After the type of road victory that's been elusive in recent years, the Hogs realized they didn't prevail with a staggering amount of beauty.

The Razorbacks (12-3 overall, 1-0 SEC) were promptly blitzed by the Tigers and allowed a remarkable 33 points in the game's first 12 minutes. And then, after gaining control of the contest late in the second half, they missed six consecutive free throws.

But, in the end, they did enough to win. Weems tallied 15 of his 17 points after halftime. And repeated unselfishness led to crucial assists in the game's final minutes as the Razorbacks recorded their second-best assist-to-turnover ratio (21-12) this season.

The paltry but feisty crowd of 6,079 didn't file out of Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum until Auburn forward Quan Prowell's clanked a 3-pointer off the rim with 18 seconds left.

"This was a great road win for us," Weems said. "We wanted to come in this year and be a different team on the road."

Early on, Arkansas didn't look like a changed squad.

Arkansas took an 6-3 lead, making a concerted effort to get the ball inside on its first three possessions and scoring on all of them. But the Razorbacks then had trouble with an Auburn zone that featured three guards across the top of it.

At the same time, Auburn (9-4, 0-1) seemingly couldn't miss as the Razorbacks let their defensive intensity dip. The Tigers drained 3-pointers. They drove into the lane for layups. They snatched offensive rebounds and scored on putbacks.

Heck, Auburn guard Rasheem Barrett scored 10 points in just more than four minutes.

The Tigers converted 10 of their first 15 shots and burst out to 28-20 advantage with a 12-5 spurt. Pelphrey stormed onto the court and called timeout with 10:01 still showing on the clock. As they trudged back to their bench, the Hogs didn't need to hear any words to know how upset Pelphrey was with them.

The look of utter disgust on Pelphrey's face was indicative enough. It wasn't just Auburn's torrid shooting that frustrated him. The Razorbacks were leaving shooters unmarked. They were being beat down the floor. They were being outhustled.

Frankly, they were getting humbled at their own game.

"We had a problem spreading out on defense," Pelphrey said. "They have incredible speed and quickness, and they found ways to get open shots on the outside. They also played a lot of zone, and that caught us off guard at first."

Soon after being scolded, though, the Razorbacks increased their defensive intensity. After Auburn went up 33-25, the Tigers' next nine possessions resulted in five missed shots and four turnovers.

Arkansas cooled down a bit offensively, but leaning on its big men spurred a late-half charge. Sophomore guard Patrick Beverley also hit two of his four first-half 3s as Arkansas finished the half on a 12-3 run to take a 37-36 lead.

The Hogs' offensive success continued in the second half — they shot 62.5 percent after halftime — and Auburn went ice-cold under increasing harassment from Arkansas.

"We were in position and had some good looks at the end, and the balls just wouldn't fall for us," Auburn forward Frank Tolbert said.

Still, Arkansas wasn't able to put Auburn's seven healthy scholarship players away until the final moments.

"Hopefully this win will carry over to the rest of our road games and lead to more wins," Weems said.

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