The Tigers led 47-18 at the 3:26 mark of the first half when Josh Langford hit two free throws. Auburn was still on top by 27 at halftime.
However, the second half was a total turnaround as the Eagles hit 68 percent of their field goals and made 9-13 treys to power the comeback.
Earnest Ross, who led all scorers with 20 points, said, "In the second half we came out very content with the lead we had and we really didn't execute the plays we ran. We gave them hope they could come back."
Kenny Gabriel, who scored 15 points, agreed with Ross. "The first half we came out with a lot of energy and we got up by double digits. Then the second half I guess we just got too complacent with the lead and then once you give a team like that hope they just play off emotion and they look at it like hey, ‘We are back in it.' That is how they got back in the game."
Frankie Sullivan scored 17 points for the Tigers and put Auburn ahead for good by making two free throws to start the scoring in overtime. He followed that with a steal. Sullivan's jumper from the wing with 48 seconds left put the Tigers up 85-82.
Frankie Sullivan hits a key shot with 48 seconds to play in overtime.
After a pair of free throws by Georgia Southern's Ben Drayton, the Tigers got one point on a foul shot by Josh Wallace with 31 seconds left and Ross iced the victory with two free throws with six seconds left.
Auburn improved its record to 5-7 while Georgia Southern fell to 4-10.
Sullivan, who played 39 minutes, admitted he was tired down the stretch in his most extensive action since returning to action following knee surgery. "I still have to get my wind up," he said.
Barbee said that even at 65 to 70 percent of full speed coming off his ACL surgery, Sullivan is a winner who makes a difference on the court. However, as a team he said the Tigers have a lot of growing to do.
"It is hard when you are young team," he said. "You have got to continue to play hard and do the things that got you the lead in the first half. We didn't do that.
"We were sloppy. We didn't execute. We gave up some easy buckets and now a team that is dangerous offensively like Georgia Southern is, they gain confidence and now they feel. ‘Okay, these guys aren't ready to play, let's go make a run at this thing,' so give them credit.
"Part of the maturation process when you have such a young team is playing to win, and not hoping you don't lose. It is a big difference and that is what I thought we did in the second half."
The Auburn coach said that the Tigers regained their composure in overtime even though the visitors hit a clutch basket to send the game into overtime and had the momentum after finally catching the Tigers.
"I jumped them going into overtime because their heads were hanging," Barbee said. "I told them we have five more minutes to win this game and it is winning time. We can't get back what has happened."
The Tigers led 52-25 at intermission after their best overall half of basketball this season. In the first 20 minutes the Tigers hit 18-33 field goals including 7-14 threes. The Tigers also made 9-10 free throws in the first half and led 20-11 on the boards at the break while holding the Eagles to just 26.1 percent shooting.
Gabriel led the first half scoring with 12 points while freshmen Josh Langford and Allen Payne scored 11 apiece.
Going to a full-court press and shooting threes at every opportunity the Eagles cut the Auburn lead to 59-49 at the 9:38 mark forcing Barbee to call a timeout to get his team re-grouped following a 15-0 run by the visitors.
The Tigers ended their scoring drought on a layup by Wallace as the Tigers broke the press.
The Eagles cut the lead into single figures at the 6:27 mark on a layup by Cameron Baskerville to cut the lead to 65-57.
The visitors continued to whittle away at the lead before finally pulling even on a do-or-die three-pointer from the top of the circle by Drayton with 5.6 seconds left.
Auburn called a timeout and got a good shot, a layup by Wallace, but the ball would not go in the basket setting up overtime with the score tied at 76-76.
Earnest Ross hits a runner after getting a pass from Josh Wallace.
For the game Auburn hit 46.6 percent of its shots to 47.2 for Georgia Southern. Auburn won the rebounding stat 37-33 and had 18 turnovers, seven fewer than the losers. Fifteen of Auburn's turnovers came in the second half when the Eagles put on an aggressive full-court press. Barbee said that the Tigers will go to work in practice to work on that phase of their game.
Auburn hit 26-40 free throws to 23-29 for Georgia Southern and Auburn made 8-20 threes while GSU hit 11-25.
"This is probably the most disappointed I have been since I was named head coach here, but I was proud of my guys," said Georgia Southern's Charlton Young, a former assistant coach for the Tigers who hoped to come back to AU and pull out a victory."
Auburn returns to action with a 4 p.m. home game vs. Grambling on New Year's Eve.
News and Notes: Sophomore guard Andre Malone quit the team and is looking for a school to transfer to, Barbee said. "Andre and I met with his family during the break and Andre decided this was not the right fit for him and I agreed so Andre is going to be looking for another place to play, another institution, so we wish him nothing but the best of luck. He was great to coach. He was a great teammate. He just felt this wasn't the right fit and I agreed. It was best that we parted ways now." Barbee said that with Sullivan coming back that Malone's playing time was dwindling. "At the end of the day, I want guys who want to be here," Barbee said. "He felt this wasn't the right fit for him so I wasn't going to beg him to stay."
Sophomore post player Ty Armstrong was dressed out for the game, but has not been cleared to play yet. Like Sullivan, he had summer ACL surgery. Sullivan said that he and Armstrong have pushed each other hard during their rehab. "He is getting close," Barbee said. "It is going to be a practice by practice evaluation by me to see whether he is ready to play or not...He is still not real close to being ready."