The Tigers trailed by 13 points in the second half of a slow-paced, defensive-oriented game, which was a major mountain for the Tigers to climb.
Barber followed a tip in attempt by fellow freshman Josh Dollard that just missed going down as Dollard was rebounding a miss by sophomore guard Frank Tolbert. Tolbert drove down the middle and took a short pull up jumper as the Tigers played for the last shot after Winthrop tied the game on a baseline basket by James Shuler with 38 seconds left.
"I don't know how Josh's shot didn't go in, but I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time," said Barber, who was a McDonald's All-American last season at Manchester, Ga., High.
He scored seven points, added four rebounds and blocked three shots as a starter, but it was another freshman, this one in a reserve role, that sparked the comeback victory.
Forward Rasheem Barrett came off the bench to score 19 points as he hit 8-12 field goals. He made 3-5 treys and had three assists and no turnovers.
"I thought Rasheem came in and gave us a lot of energy, said Auburn coach Jeff Lebo, who added that he was particularly pleased with the freshman's shot selection.
"I have seen an awful lot of games where teams would cut into it, but never get the lead," said Lebo, who noted that the game vs. the hard-nosed Eagles looked like it could be one of those tough ones to lose.
Instead, it was the Eagles who suffered the heartbreaker, one that left Winthrop's Gregg Marshall an extremely unhappy head coach.
"Frustrated and disappointed are the right words to describe how I feel," said Marshall, whose team fell to 6-3 on the season while Auburn improved to 6-3.
Coach Gregg Marshall talks to official Gerald Boudreaux.
Marshall said from watching video of Auburn that the Tigers looked like a quick and athletic team that played extremely hard. He said he challenged his group to outplay the Tigers at their own game, which the visitors appeared to do much of the evening.
"I won't say we played harder than they did, but I will say they didn't play in our harder than our guys did," Marshall noted.
Auburn's Lebo pointed to the second chance points statistic to note that he thought Winthrop did a better job chasing loose balls on hustle plays and rebounding than the Tigers did. The Eagles enjoyed a 22-9 edge in second chance points.
Senior forward Ronny LeMelle scored 12 for the Tigers, who hit 50 percent of their second half shots to finish at 45.3 for the game to 42.0 for Winthrop. Auburn made 7-16 threes while Winthrop hit 7-23.
The Eagles took a 34-26 edge on the boards, but turned the ball over 17 times, four more than the Tigers.
Emanuel Willis played in his second game as a Tiger. He played nine minutes and scored two points with one rebound.
The visitors managed to get to the foul line 21 times and made 15. Auburn struggled at the foul line, making just 9-15.
Torrell Martin, a 6-5 guard, led the visitors with 19 points while 5-10 guard Chris Gaynor, who was only averaging 3.6 points per game and had been in a shooting slump, hit 5-7 treys on the way to 17 points.
"When Chris is shooting like that we are a tough team to defend, even for an SEC team," Marshall said.
The lead changed six times in the first half. Winthrop enjoyed the largest margin at 18-9 midway through the period. The Tigers then scored 10 straight points to take the lead on a trey by Barrett at the 6:16 mark.
Winthrop scored the final five points of the first half to take a 31-26 advantage into the locker room.
The Tigers hit 40.0 percent of their first half shots to 40.7 for the visitors, who enjoyed an 18-13 rebounding advantage and a 13-4 advantage in second chance points.
The key player for the Eagles in the first half was Gaynor. He took just three shots, all treys, to lead all scorers at the break with nine points.
Lebo used nine players in the first half, but didn't substitute at the point for freshman Quantez Robertson, who was on the court the entire contest. LeMelle with six points was the halftime high point man for the Tigers, who made just three of eight free throw opportunities.
The visitors kept the pressure on to start the second half, opening with a three-pointer by Gaynor on the way to scoring eight uncontested points before Dollard made two free throws at the 18:10 mark to cut the lead to 11.
The Tigers trailed 46-34 before Barrett led a charge with a three, a fastbreak basket, another three and an alley oop backdoor cut and dunk to cut the margin to 48-44.
"My teammates did a good job of setting me up for the shots," Barrett said, who picked up his fourth foul on a questionable call with 7:12 left. "I thought I went straight up and didn't touch the shooter," he said. Lebo kept him on the bench until the 1:23 mark after Auburn got the ball back on a steal by freshman Joey Cameron with the Tigers on top by two.
Jeff Lebo said after the game that he Winthrop's changing defenses gave his team problems much of the night.
The Tigers cut the gap to 56-55 with 4:51 left as Tolbert made a pair of free throws after being intentionally fouled after he made a steal and was trying to take off for a breakaway.
Tolbert was the man to give the Tigers their first lead of the second half as he nailed a three-pointer from the wing with 2:41 to play making the score 60-58.
That set the stage for the dramatic finish for the Tigers, who improved their homecourt record to 6-0 and for the first time this season rallied to win after being behind at halftime.
The Tigers return to action on Saturday with a 1 p.m. New Year's Eve home tipoff vs. Jacksonville State.