Frank Tolbert and Korvotney Barber led the Tigers to the victory. Tolbert scored 24 points while Barber scored 21 and added nine rebounds. Barber hit 8-9 field goals and Tolbert was 10-16 from the floor.
Defense sparked the Tigers to the victory. They came away from the game with 17 steals, including eight by sophomore guard DeWayne Reed, which tied the school record set by Derrick Dennison in 1989 vs. Michigan. George Washington finished with just four steals.
Reed iced the game with a free throw with 15.2 seconds left and then made a steal in the closing seconds to end George Washington's last chance.
"Defensively, I thought that was the key," said Auburn coach Jeff Lebo, whose Tigers forced 21 turnovers. "In the first half, Diggs (Rob Diggs, 15 points) hurt us inside. In the second half, I thought Vot (Barber) did an excellent job on him and he didn't get as many good touches."
The Tigers jumped to a quick 6-2 lead on three-pointers by Quantez Robertson and Tolbert, but didn't hit another one the rest of the first half.
"We shot the ball poorly from three," Lebo said. "I think we made our first two and we ended up 3-18. Quantez hit the big one late in the second half that got us back into the lead."
Auburn's largest lead of the first half was at 18-10 on a basket by Tolbert with 11 minutes before intermission.
George Washington caught the Tigers at 24-24 four minutes later and built a 37-30 lead with 3:55 left in the half. However, Auburn scored the final eight points of the period to lead by a point at the break.
Although Auburn could never pull away from the Colonials, the Tigers never trailed in the second half.
A basket by Barber increased the lead to five points at 51-46 with 13:26 to play. Another inside score by Barber, this one with 11:09 left, gave Auburn its largest lead of the half at 58-50.
However, GW made a run, outscoring the Tigers 12-4 to tie the game with 5:07 to play. Robertson then drained a three-pointer from the left wing and Auburn never trailed after that.
Robertson's hit two free throws with 58.2 seconds left to stretch Auburn's lead to 71-65.
The Tigers, who made just 13-23 free throws, struggled at the foul line in the closing minute to give the Colonials opportunities.
A three-point basket by Wynton Witherspoon, GW's leading scorer with 17 points, gave the Colonials hope cutting the Auburn lead to 71-68 with 46 seconds left.
Tolbert hit one of two free throws with 42.2 seconds left and again made one of two free throws with 31.1 seconds remaining to increase the lead to 73-68.
A rebound basket by Miles Beatty with 16.1 seconds left cut the lead to three. Reed then hit the second of two free throws with 16.1 seconds remaining to stretch the margin to four. After a missed shot, Barber was fouled. He missed both free throws with 7.3 seconds left, but Reed's steal wrapped up the victory for the Tigers.
Auburn was out-rebounded 31-26 and hit just 3-13 threes, but the Tigers hit 54.7 percent from the field. George Washington made 11-24 threes and 5-11 free throws as the Atlantic 10 team fell to 2-3 while Auburn improved its record to 4-1.
Lebo said he thought it was Tolbert's best game this season. "It is the first game Frank has really played well," the coach said. "He struggled in the games before that with his decision-making and his shooting, but he scored points for us and played like a senior in a different environment for these kids."
Lebo also had praise for Barber. "He is awfully quick in there. He had some key buckets in the second half when we needed a basket. We went inside to him. He had a really nice left-handed move and went into traffic and got to the foul line. He hurt his wrist a little bit, but he toughed it out."
The Tigers return to action on Wednesday at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center vs.West Virginia. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m.
The Tigers didn't get any scoring from the bench as neither Matt Heramb or Lucas Hargrove put the ball in the basket. Senior forward Quan Prowell is expected to be back from his six-game suspension for Auburn's game vs. West Virginia and that should improve the team's depth.