With the game tied after the Tigers rallied from a 12-point deficit, CSU's Steve Peterson hit a fall-away wing jumper from 18 feet out with 15 seconds left despite tight defense from Earnest Ross. That basket broke a 52-52 tie.
After a timeout, Ross missed a short range jumper in traffic and tip-in tries by Kenny Gabriel and Rob Chubb wouldn not go in as the Cougars held on for the victory.
The Tigers had plenty of issues on Monday night against the Division II?opponent out of the Peach Belt Conference. The most obvious was foul shooting. The Tigers made just 7-20 free throws and ended up with a deficit of 11 points at the line as the Cougars made 18-26.
Auburn also had rebounding issues. The Tigers lost the battle on the boards 50-44.
Barbee's Tigers only made 32.8 percent of their field goals, but that was better than the 29.8 percent from the field the Cougars made.
"We have got a long way to go," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. "Like I?told our guys, the best thing about this game tonight is that it didn't count.
"We will take a lot from this game and we will probably have some teaching points when we watch the film," he said. "We are a team that has got to play harder than our opponent, from start to finish, all year long just in order to survive. That is the type of team we have to be.
"We did some good things when we got down 12," Barbee added. "I thought at that point we played with a little bit of a sense of desperation, a sense of purpose that we have to do from the tip because with this team we are going to be a little offensively-challenged.
"We did some good things defensively," Barbee added. "We did hold them to 29 percent shooting from the floor, which is a great number. Then you give up 15 offensive rebounds. If you cut that number in half it is probably 22 percent shooting. And then we are not a team that is going to out-jump and out-big people for rebounds so we better put bodies on people. We just have to keep working on those things in practice so they become habits in the games."
Barbee said if the Tigers had hit just 10-20 free throws, which he called an "awful number," the Tigers could have won the game. "When your margin of error is not to high, you better do the little things," he said.
The coach noted that the Tigers spend a lot of time working on free throws in practice and have been good in that phase of the game.
Gabriel saw a silver lining to the dark cloud of losing to Columbus State. "One thing we are satisfied with is that we showed poise at the end of the game and we showed we had heart," he said.
Ross led the Tigers in scoring with 14 points and added six rebounds. Auburn's other double figures scorer, Andre Malone, finished with 10 points, but made just 3-9 field goals.
"Foul shooting is one of the major things we need to improve on as a team," said Ross, who noted the Tigers have been shooting their free throws well in practice. "That is something we are striving to do in practice each and every day and that is something we need to continue to work on to win games."
Kenny Gabriel goes up high to tip in a basket with his left hand.
Center Rob Chubb came off the bench to contribute with nine rebounds and six points.
Point guard Josh Wallace scored seven points and added four assists in 38 minutes with
Auburn took an early 10-2 lead, but the Cougars made an 11-0 run and kept the lead most of the rest of the first half. At intermission the visitors led 32-27 mainly thanks to horrible foul shooting by the Tigers who hit just 4-14 free throws.
The Tigers were out-rebounded 25-17 in the first half and shot 40 percent from the field while the Cougars hit 37 percent of their field goals. Ross, who made Auburn's only two treys of the first half, led the Tigers in scoring at intermission with 11 points.
The Cougars built their lead to 41-29 at the 12:19 mark of the second half. Auburn got the deficit under 10 with 11:13 left on a dunk by Chubb. A layup by Wallace cut the lead to 41-37 with 9:01 left, but the Tigers struggled with their shooting and fell behind by seven before tying the game at 50-50 on a three from the corner by Ross with 1:28 left.
Peterson then put the Cougars up with 1:08 left on a jumper before Chubb tied the game at 52-52 on a layup with 49 seconds left setting the stage for Peterson's game-winning shot.