Auburn came back from nine points down and tied the game at 48-48 on a basket by Chris Denson with 9:36 left, but the home team couldn't pull in front until 1:13 was left in the game when K.T. Harrell hit two free throws to put AU up 62-60.
Harrell then hit two more foul shots with 14 seconds left to make the score 65-62 and from there Coach Tony Barbee's team was able to hold on and snap its two-game losing streak following an 11-day layoff for final exams.
Clemson scored an uncontested dunk with two seconds remaining when it needed a three-pointer, but Auburn's defense was blanketing all of the CU players behind the three-point line.
After the basket Auburn's Allen Payne was fouled with eight-tenths of a second remaining. The senior forward made his first foul shot and intentionally missed the second.
Auburn improved its record to 5-3 while Clemson fell to 8-3 in the first basketball matchup between the teams in two decades.
Barbee said he liked his team's mental toughness, something that concerned him in the previous two outings, losses to Iowa State and Illinois. He also liked his team's defensive stops down the stretch when Payne took a charge and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum blocked a shot.
"We kept fighting, " the coach said, pointing out that enabled his team to overcome mistakes. "That has to be our identity."
Barbee said the Tigers went to work to become a better basketball team since their disappointing loss to Illinois on Dec. 8th in Atlanta. "I don't even how many hard days of practice since our last game--it's 10 or more," he said. "The guys responded. They fought for each other. I am happy for the guys because they went out and executed."
Clemson came into the game leading the nation in scoring defense (51.7 points per game allowed) and field goal defense (34.7 percent). Auburn easily surpassed those numbers on a night the home team hit 47.3 percent of its field goals.
Denson led the offense with 19 points. The senior guard hit 9-16 field goals while junior guard Harrell made 5-9 shots on the way to scoring 14.
"We fought tonight and that was apparent," said Denson, noting that was the "main thing" the Tigers did to win the game.
Denson also noted the bench stepped up for the Tigers. "We just need contributions from everybody, every night, so that is definitely what we need," he said. "Coach Barbee always says that K.T. and I can't do the bulk of the scoring it needs to come from everybody. Matt Atewe was big tonight, after coming off an injury and him barely knowing what to do on offense and defense. Plus Asauhn making that big block. We just need contributions from everybody every night."
Clemson got 18 points from junior K.J. McDaniels, who hit 7-14 shots on his return to the state where he played high school ball at Central Park Christian in Birmingham. Rod Hall, who hit 8-10 free throws for the visitors, scored 16 while Jordan Roper added 12.
Auburn was able to keep McDaniels from getting the ball in the closing minutes. "They obviously double-teamed me," he said. "I should have tried harder to get open. Credit to Auburn, they played great defense. It was a tough loss.
"Coming back home and with my mom's birthday, I really wanted to win," he said. "It's kind of heartbreaking, but it's alright. We'll come back with the right mindset and come back punching, punching hard."
The Clemson junior said Auburn played well and got a boost from the crowd of 4,938. "The crowd was amazing," he said. "That crowd helped Auburn out a lot. Their confidence kept rising. We had to fight through some things and try to maintain. The crowd helped the out a lot, and they play with a lot of confidence. They did a great job tonight."
Clemson shot 44 percent from the field and made 4-13 threes plus 16-24 foul shots. Auburn hit 4-17 threes and 10-19 free throws.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, "We just didn't execute in key parts of the game." Brownell added that his team had a tough time matching up with Denson's athletic ability not the senior guard is "so fast."
Asauhn Dixon-Tatum grabs a rebound for Auburn over Jaron Blossomgame of Clemson.
Stat of the Game: Auburn more than held its own on the boards against a tall, physical opponent, winning the rebounding battle 35-32.
Halftime Numbers: Auburn led by 11 points at the 13:18 mark, but the teams were tied 34-34 by intermission. Auburn shot 55.6 percent in the half and hit 3-9 threes, 1-3 free throws and had 34 rebounds with five turnovers. Clemson hit 43.3 percent of its shots with 4-9 threes, 4-6 free throws while bringing in 13 rebounds and turning the ball over twice. Denson led the Tigers with 12 points and McDaniels matched that total for Clemson.
Worth Noting: Barbee used 11 players, including Chris Griffin, who was in the game for 20 minutes off the bench in his first game back from a leave of absence for personal reasons. Griffin was rusty with his shooting, hitting 1-8 field goals. He was 1-5 on treys.
"Our bench was great," Barbee said. "We got everything off the bench. We got offense off the bench, we got rebounding, we got toughness."
Worth Noting, Part 1: Barbee had praise for true freshman post player Matthew Attewe, who had a key rebound basket and free throw play in Auburn's comeback. He played 13 minutes and contributed two blocks and two rebounds. "He is still out there playing on half a leg as he is getting better," Barbee said, noting that the freshman has not fully recovered from a preseason injury."
Point guard Malcolm Canada scored seven points and added two assists off the bench in 16 minutes.
The Tigers return to action at 1 p.m. on Sunday for a home game vs. Boston College.