The Tigers led 60-48 with 4:12 left after Allen Payne hit the second of his two free throw attempts. The Tigers scored just three more points the rest of the half allowing the Bulldogs to send the game into overtime.
Auburn had the ball in the closing seconds with a chance to win, but didn't get a shot off after a pass by Josh Wallace was intercepted.
"Our inexperience showed," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. "We are what we are. I thought we played hard and for the most part we battled for the majority of the game. Our lack of inexperience showed and their experience showed."
Barbee said his players are taking the loss hard. "The growing pains I talked about," he said.
"My job, which is why I am here, is to change the culture," Barbee added. "I told these guys that losing is not your fate so don't accept it."
Barbee said the Tigers had two of their better rebounders, Kenny Gabriel and Rob Chubb, in position to rebound two missed free throws on the play that the Bulldogs tied the game with 28 seconds left in regulation. "If we get that rebound for all intents and purposes the game is over," Barbee said. "They have to foul you.
Gabriel led the Tigers with 18 points and 13 rebounds. The sophomore forward hit 5-10 field goals, including 2-4 treys, and was 6-8 at the foul line.
"We stopped executing, we stopped rebounding and we got soft mentally and physically," Gabriel said in explaining his team's collapse down the stretch.
The sophomore added, "We should have ended up beating them by 20-plus points."
Gabriel said it was fantastic playing in the new arena as a sellout crowd of 9,121 watched the action. "It was fantastic playing in there," he said. "The crowd was lovely."
Freshman Allen Payne came off the bench and scored 14 points in 23 minutes. He made 4-5 field goals.
The Tigers got 12 points from Earnest Ross, but he hit just 4-13 shots and was 4-8 at the foul line.
Josh Wallace added nine points and five assists, but he also had five turnovers.
Andre Malone got a start for the Tigers.
Defense and rebounding allowed the Tigers to take a 37-21 lead despite 33.3 percent field goal shooting at the break. Auburn doubled the Bulldogs on the boards, 30-15, and forced 10 turnovers. Auburn had just four turnovers at the break.
Malone led the Tigers in scoring at intermission with 11 points as he hit 3-4 threes. Gabriel had nine points and 10 rebounds at the half.
The Bulldogs hit just 7-25 (28 percent) of their first half shots.
The Tigers were sluggish to start the second half. The Bulldogs outscored Auburn 9-3 prompting Barbee to call a timeout at the 13:59 mark.
Wallace hit a layup immediately after the timeout to end Auburn's scoring drought. The Tigers appeared to regain control of the contest, but faded down the stretch.
For the game the Tigers shot 37.3 percent from the field and hit 19-34 free throws. The visitors hit 34.5 percent from the field and made 23-33 free throws.
Auburn out-rebounded the visitors 50-38, but hurt its cause with 20 turnovers, five more than UNCA.
The Tigers hit 6-16 threes and the Bulldogs made 7-21 threes.
Matt Dickey led the Bullodgs in scoring with 18 points while J.P. Primm scored 16 and Jaron Lane added 14 points.
The Tigers return to action next Friday with a 7:30 p.m. home game vs. Samford.