After a frigid shooting first half the Tigers warmed up in the final 20 minutes, but it was way too little, too late as Auburn fell 81-62 Illinois.
Playing in front of a couple thousand fans in a big arena, the Tigers fell behind in the opening minutes and were out of reach by halftime trailing 41-17 to their opponent from the Big Ten.
Illinois shot well in both halves, hitting 60 percent in the opening period and 63 percent in the final 20 minutes. Auburn finished the game making 40.4 percent of its shots thanks to hitting 15-29 field goals (51.7 percent) after intermission.
Asked if the three-point shooting differential was the big issue for his team to overcome, Auburn coach Tony Barbee said, "Our shooting in general, it wasn't just three-point line. We obviously didn't make any in the first half. We couldn't make layups, we couldn't make pull-up jumpers, we couldn't make anything."
"Give them credit, they made shots, but when you don't put any pressure on another team by being as anemic as we were in the first half then there is no pressure on the other team," Barbee said. "They are in their comfort zone.
"That is what I talked about to our team," the coach added. "We let our offense be their defense. I don't think we took bad shots, but you have to make some."
K.T. Harrell led all scorers with 23 points. The Auburn junior hit 6-11 field goals, 3-6 treys and 8-8 foul shots.
Tajh Shamsid-Deen was Auburn's only other double figures scorer with 13. "I think we came out flat, I think we didn't come out with enough energy," the freshman point guard said.
"In the second half we played with more of a sense of urgency," he added. "That is something we have been working on practice. I guess it is something we need to continue to work on and come out like we are down 20 points so that deficit doesn't happen."
Suffering its second consecutive loss, the Tigers fell to 4-3 while Illinois improved to 8-1. Illinois swept a two-game series vs. Tigers, winning last December by a score of 81-79 at the United Center in Chicago.
Three-point shooting was a key to Illinois building its big early lead. For the game the Big Ten team made 12-23 treys while Auburn hit 6-19.
Auburn was out-rebounded 27-26 and had 13 turnovers, one less than Illinois. Auburn hit 14-18 free throws while Illinois was 5-5.
Halftime Numbers: Illinois made 15-25 first half shots including 7-13 threes to put the hammer down on the Tigers. Auburn hit just 6-23 shots for 26.1 percent and was 0-4 on threes. Auburn held a 14-13 rebounding edge, but hurt its cause with nine turnovers, four more than the Illini. Harrell led the Tigers in scoring at the break with six points while Chris Denson scored four points.
Worth Noting: Barbee changed the starting lineup, going with freshman Benas Griciunas at center in place of senior Auburn Dixon-Tatum and sophomore Jordon Granger at forward instead of senior Allen Payne. Harrell, Denson and Tajh Shamsid-Deen joined them as starters. The coach said he made the change hoping to get more production from those spots, but noted it didn't happen on Sunday in Atlanta.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Former Tiger hoops stars Charles Barkley and John Mengelt watched the action from front row seats at Philips Arena.
Stat of the Game: Auburn's leading scorer, senior guard Chris Denson, scored just eight points but was his team's third leading scorer. Denson was 3-7 on field goals and 2-5 at the free throw line.
The Tigers take a break for fall semester exams and will return to action with a home game on Dec. 19th vs. Clemson.