Bench Play Sparks Auburn Win Over Arkansas

Auburn got productive minutes from its bench in a big SEC win on Wednesday.

Auburn, Ala.—Brendon Knox, Frankie Sullivan and Lucas Hargrove contributed solid minutes off the bench as Auburn overcame a 10-point second half deficit to rally for a 75-62 victory over Arkansas.

Auburn improved to 15-9 overall and 4-5 in conference play.

"I'm really proud of our team," said Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. "I thought the difference in the game was our bench, and I haven't said that in a long time. I thought Lucas, Frankie Sullivan and Brendon Knox were the difference makers, especially in the second half.

"I don't know if we had a basket off the bench against Tennessee," Lebo added, "but in this game we got 26 points off the bench. That was big. I've been wanting to play Brendon Knox more and he showed signs of what he can do. Frankie was terrific and Lucas was big, especially in the second half."

Arkansas, which dropped to 1-8 in the SEC, had a 39-31 lead at halftime but as it has done several times this year failed to execute in the second half.

Hargrove had 14 points, eight rebounds, three assists and some key points down the stretch as Auburn overcame the double-digit deficit. Against the Arkansas zone, Hargrove hit a pair of jumpers from the free throw area and hit a fast-break layup as the Tigers went on a 15-2 run.

"Coach was talking to me and Rasheem Barrett," Hargrove explained. "He told us to get to the middle because their zone is open a lot and once you catch it there you've got to be a player–make a move, make a great pass or just put it in the cup. I like to put it in the cup."

Also during the Tigers' run, Knox spelled Korvotney Barber and played some valuable minutes in the second half. He finished with six points, four rebounds and a pair of blocks in 15 minutes, all of which set a personal high in conference play.

"Since Johnnie (Lett) got hurt I realized that I had to step my game up," Knox said. "The first two games when he was out were rocky and rough, but they need me. I practiced hard, got ready and tonight it showed."

Arkansas fought back and claimed a 60-59 lead on a Stefan Welsh three-pointer from the wing with 6:36 to play, but the Razorbacks would score just two more points.

In Auburn's 73-51 win at Arkansas on Jan. 24, the Tigers out-scored Arkansas 19-2 in the final 9:22 of the game. On Wednesday at Beard-Eaves, Auburn closed the game on a 16-2 run.

One of the turning points came with 4:23 to play as Montgomery-native Courtney Fortson fouled out, then proceeded to pick up his sixth foul, a technical for words directed at the referees. Fortson picked up his first foul with as he threw a forearm into the back of DeWayne Reed's head less than a minute into the game.

"I don't even really remember what happened with the technical," Fortson said. "I thought it was a questionable call, but they are referees for a reason. I said something to him and he just T'ed me up. I was really asking for an explanation."

Waller hit both of the technicals and Reed added another free throw on the original foul as Auburn took a seven-point lead at 67-60 and never looked back.

"I felt like that like was a big turning point," Hargrove said of the technical, "but before that the momentum had already started to change. That was just building the snowball.

"It's college basketball," Hargrove added. "It's intensity. One minute they may have the momentum. The next minute we may have the momentum. I think we got the momentum going."

Tay Waller, pictured, and Hargrove both had 14 points apiece for the Tigers.

Rotnei Clark and Welsh both had 14 for Arkansas. All 14 of Clark's points came in the first half as Arkansas struggled to put it in the basket in the final 20 minutes. The Razorbacks were just 8-30 from the floor in the second half for 23 points.

Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey was complimentary of the Auburn defense after the game.

"They played some tight defense and a couple of types of zone," Pelphrey said. "When they went to man defense, we started to have a difficult time scoring the ball and that's a tribute to their defense.

"We were up nine and they made a couple of quick runs," he added. "We had to call a few timeouts to try to slow them up, but we couldn't get it done in the second half."

Auburn outscored Arkansas 37-15 in the final 15:30 minutes of the game.

If Auburn can beat Mississippi State on Saturday it would be the first time since 2002-2003 that the Tigers are .500 in league play in February.

"Each one is important," Lebo said of conference games. "Each game, and obviously being here at home. Each one gets us a little bit closer. It's jumbled up there in the middle. We've got a big one coming up at home in the next game against Mississippi State.

"I like the way we did it tonight," he added. "It wasn't the so-called stars that helped us win the basketball game. You've got to have some depth this time of year and I'm real proud of how those three guys stepped up and played."

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