Defense, in particular full-court pressure and a half-court trap, was the answer for the Tigers, who improved their record to 7-4 in their final pre-Christmas game. The Hornets from Montgomery dropped to 2-7.
Auburn's trapping defense produced a 17-0 run to turn a 51-59 deficit with 5:46 remaining into a 68-59 lead following a Tay Waller three-pointer with 2:24 left.
"The bottom line was, we just lost our cool," Alabama State coach Lewis Jackson said. Jackson the disappointing part of Auburn's comeback was that he had a senior-dominated lineup on the court during Auburn's run.
Waller led the Tigers with 21 points. He hit 6-12 three-pointers. Four other Tigers scored in double figures including 12 off the bench for Rasheem Barrett.
Waller said he didn't think there was any hangover from Auburn's quick turn-around after winning at Virginia on Saturday, but did say there was probably a reason for Auburn's struggles until late in the game.
"I think everyone was just ready to go home and they were just overlooking the game in the first half," Waller said. "Then Coach came in there at halftime and said, ‘We have got to pick it up.'"
Auburn continued to struggle at the free throw line making 16-30 for the evening which made winning the game harder than it needed to be.
The Tigers were able to overcome their foul shooting woes by forcing 24 turnovers, eight more than the Tigers committed.
Lucas Hargrove prepares to block out Andrew Hayles (right) for a rebound on Monday night.
The Hornets enjoyed a 39-34 edge on the boards, but Auburn had a better night shooting from the field making 47.3 percent of its shots to 43.4 percent for the visitors. Alabama State hit 11-25 threes. Auburn made 9-25. The Hornets hit 15-23 free throws.
Senior Brandon Brooks led all scorers with 24 points and the ASU guard won praise for his play by Lebo. Brooks hit 6-9 field goals, 10-14 free throws and had seven assists, six turnovers and two steals.
"I thought they were terrific," Lebo said of the Hornets. "Brandon Brooks is terrific. He really dominated the game, I thought, running that high flat ball screen with flares with shooters in the corners. Their four man, (Rashad) Provitt can shoot the ball. That is very hard to defend."
"They are a good basketball team," Lebo said. "I was concerned about this game coming in. I watched them against Ole Miss and Mississippi State and they did the same thing. They were right there until the end.
"They are a program that is used to winning," Lebo noted. "They won 20 last year and went to the NIT. They have senior players and they have good guards. These are the kind of games who scare you."
Auburn trailed 29-24 at halftime and didn't do much of anything well. Foul shots continued to be a huge problem as the Tigers made just 3-8 and compounded the issue with 10 turnovers.
The Tigers were also outrebounded 20-15 in the first half, but the Hornets weren't able to take advantage of AU struggles to build a larger lead due to nine turnovers of their own and 34.6 percent shooting from the field.
The Tigers took an early 7-2 lead, but were caught at 15-15 at the 12:26 mark on one of three treys made in the first half by Provitt. The Hornets continued what was an 11-0 run by moving ahead 21-15 on another three by Provitt at the 10:19 mark.
Auburn tied the game at 21-21 at the 4:19 mark on a rebound basket by Barber, ending a scoring drought that started at the 12:46 mark after Barrett made one of two free throws.
The Hornets then scored the next eight points before a trey by Waller at the 1:18 mark ended the first half scoring with the visitors up by five.
The Tigers pulled even at 33-33 at the 16:00 mark of the second half on a three from the corner by Waller.
ASU built the lead to 51-40 at the 9:14 mark and it took the Tigers until the 4:36 mark to pull even at 59-59 on a jumper by Barrett. Then, at the 3:58 mark, Auburn took the lead for good on a layup by Barrett following a steal and an assist by Robertson.
Auburn kept the heat on with two free throws by Hargrove, a tip in by Johnnie Lett and another three by Waller with 1:57 before the Hornets were able to score again.
The Tigers return to action next Monday with a 7 p.m. home game vs. Alabama A&M.
Game Notes: Waller tied his Auburn high for threes with six makes...He got called for a technical foul after making a three-point shot in the second half and was puzzled by the call. "I just said ‘let's go' the junior pointed out...Lebo had praise for the play of Lett off the bench. He was 3-3 from the field and added five rebounds in 12 minutes of action.