Tigers Lose Big Lead In "Embarrassing" Loss

The Auburn men's basketball team blew a 17-point lead to Arkansas for tough home loss.

Auburn, Ala.-- After leading by as much as 17 in the first half, the Auburn men's basketball team fell short in the second as Arkansas rallied to beat the Tigers 77-71 at the Auburn Arena on Saturday.

"We are still playing for postseason," said head coach Tony Barbee. "When we show as little fight, heart and desire as we did in the last 20 minutes, it is embarrassing."

After combining for 20 first-half points, Frankie Sullivan and Kenny Gabriel managed nine combined in the second period, finishing with 15 and 14, respectively.

"We just stopped playing defense," said senior forward Kenny Gabriel on the game. "We got complacent. That basically sums everything up. We were knocking down shots at the beginning, but near the end, we were just taking hero shots."

The Tigers (14-14, 4-10) were without sophomore guards Varez Ward and Chris Denson, who were suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules, according to Barbee.

Ward and Denson average 17.5 points points a game combined for the Tigers, but Barbee said their absence wasn't an excuse for the team blowing a 17-point first half lead.

"It didn't matter," Barbee said. "You have to have guys step up. I thought some guys played well for about the first 20 minutes, and about the last 20 minutes we didn't have much in the tank."

With Ward and Denson out, forward Allen Payne had his best game this season for the Tigers, scoring a season-high 15 points while grabbing seven rebounds.

"I miss them a lot," said Payne of Ward and Denson missing the game. "We lost a lot of production, but it's an opportunity for a lot of guys to step up.

"It's part of the game," added the sophomore forward. "People go out for whatever reason, and everybody has to step up. Everybody on this team is capable of helping us win."

The Tigers shot 49.1 percent from the field for the game, but only hit 37.5 percent of their shots in the second half.

After hitting five or their first seven three-point shots, the Tigers only made one of 13 attempts the rest of the game.

The Tigers also struggled in the second half with free throws, shooting 11-21 from the charity stripe down the stretch.

The Razorbacks (18-11, 6-8) were led by Rickey Scott's SEC career-high 22 points. Mardracus Wade added 18. Arkansas' B.J. Young, who averages a team-leading 15.4 points a game, was held scoreless in the first half, but managed 10 points in the second period.

Arkansas benefited from 20 second-half points from its bench, with eight coming from sophomore Brandon Mitchell. Mitchell finished with 10 points and six rebounds on the night.

The Tigers outplayed the Razorbacks in the first half, shooting 58.6 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from behind the arc, with Gabriel and Sullivan scoring 10 points apiece.

Auburn also held a 12-6 advantage over Arkansas in assists, with Sullivan and Wallace combining for seven.

Despite the Tigers' fast start, which saw their lead grow to as large as 17 with 6:55 left in the first half, the Razorbacks kept it close behind the shooting of Scott, who put up 18 points in the first half.

Young, who averages a team-leading 15.4 points a game, was held scoreless in 11 minutes of action in the first half.

If Gabriel was feeling any effects from his injury, it didn't show in his play as he scored 10 first half points, including two long-range threes and a thunderous dunk on a alley-hoop from Sullivan with 4:40 left.

A nice pass by Josh Wallace split defenders to find Payne for a two-handed dunk, putting the Tigers up 24-11.

Auburn will travel to Tuscaloosa Wednesday for its final conference road game of the regular season against Alabama, with the tip off slated for 7 p.m. CST. The Tigers will look to avenge their 68-50 home loss at the hands of the Tide, with the tip off slated for 7 p.m. CST.

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