"I'm really proud of them," coach Jeff Lebo said. "We battled. We played awfully well the first half and got down to start the second half. We battled back and take the lead. We had a lot of opportunities. We were up three with 50 seconds and we lose (Brendon) Knox on a block call, a three-point play.
"Our kids continued to fight," he added. "We're exhausted. The way they played us was pressuring us and making us put the ball down and denying everywhere. They were making us drive the ball to the bucket. We didn't finish like we would like around the rim area sometimes, but I'm proud of the kids the way they played with heart and toughness in this game."
Auburn had its chances to come away with a victory against the Razorbacks (12-11, 5-3) and none were bigger than at the end of regulation. After holding a lead for much of the first half, the Tigers were trailing heading into the final minutes of regulation thanks to the combination of Courtney Fortson and Marshawn Powell and a stagnant Auburn offense. The two combined for 43 points on the day as Arkansas led Auburn 59-53 with just over five minutes left in the game after the Tigers scored just seven points in over 12 minutes of game action stretching from the first to second half.
The Tigers would respond though as Lucas Hargrove scored back to back baskets and Tay Waller added a three-pointer with 3:09 remaining to put Auburn in front 63-62 and cause some uneasiness in the 16,000+ in attendance. That's how things would stay until with 1:06 left Waller made the play that looked like it would give the Tigers the win.
Being guarded by Fortson, Waller stepped back on the right wing and drained a long jumper. It appeared to be a triple, but Waller's foot was on the line. Still, it put Auburn up by three with just a minute left. Arkansas quickly answered back though as Fortson drove and dished to Powell underneath. His basket plus the fifth foul on Brendon Knox tied the game back at 65.
Trying to get a two for one with 58.3 seconds left, DeWayne Reed drove down quickly but turned the ball over just moments later. Arkansas responded as Fortson drove to his left and banked a runner in with just 14 seconds left to put the Razorbacks ahead 67-65. Looking for the win, Auburn turned to Waller as the senior launched a long three from the right wing that came up short.
Hustling on the play, sophomore Frankie Sullivan got the rebound near the Auburn bench and launched a prayer turnaround while falling out of bounds. The shot came down at the front of the rim where freshman Andre Malone dropped it in the basket to send the game to overtime.
"We harp about mental toughness and being tough enough to get a stop and a score that changes momentum," Lebo said. "In basketball a few possessions can be six or seven point swings. We had those. We had a couple of plays at the end where Lucas had a three that was in and out. That three-point play where we lost Knox was huge. Fortson was terrific in the second half and made some big plays in overtime."
The overtime turned into the Fortson show as the Montgomery native hit a three to break a 71-all tie and give the Razorbacks and lead they wouldn't relinquish. It wasn't because of Auburn's desire though. Even getting down by seven on six more Fortson points, Auburn continued to battle as Sullivan and Waller both his three-pointers in the last 15 seconds to put the Arkansas led down to just two 81-79.
On the line with a chance to end the game Fortson made just one of two free throws with 4.2 seconds left, leaving the Tigers with a chance down three. Getting the ball to Sullivan 60 feet from the basket, Auburn looked like it might have a chance to tie the game once again but the shot bounced off the rim and fell to the floor giving Arkansas the win.
For the game Sullivan and Waller both had 18 points to lead the Tigers with Waller also pulling down seven rebounds. Auburn outrebounded the Razorbacks 39-32 thanks to 10 rebounds from Johnnie Lett. He also added five points. The biggest difference came at the free throw line where Auburn made 7-11 while Arkansas was 20-30.
The first half was a repeat performance of most of Auburn's SEC games this season as the Tigers came out smoking offensively to take the loud Arkansas crowd out of the game early. One of the keys to the Tigers' season has been three-point shooting and that was the case early as Waller, Sullivan and Reed all his triples in the first four minutes to give Auburn the early lead 11-9.
It became a back and forth game for the next few minutes as both teams continued to score at a rapid pace with Arkansas taking a 20-19 advantage with 11:39 left on two Jemal Farmer free throws. That's when the Tigers began to assert themselves on the offensive end.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Sullivan put Auburn five and a Hargrove basket made the advantage seven with 10:03 left in the first half. Moments later a Brendon Knox bucket put the Tigers up 31-23 with 9:14 on the clock. Unfortunately for Lebo's club the offensive doldrums would set in again, allowing Arkansas to get back in the game.
Still up eight following a Ty Armstrong basket with 8:05 remaining, Auburn would score just five points the rest of the first half as the Razorbacks eventually cut the lead down to just two on a free throw from Fortson. Leading 36-34, Knox again made a strong move in the paint to score two and put Auburn back in front by four. Delvon Johnson put the finishing touches on the half with a basket with 45 seconds left. That made the score 38-36 Auburn and that's how the half would end.
Arkansas would go on to the victory and move to first place in the Western Division. In addition to Fortson and Powell, Rotnei Clarke added 12 points on just 4-11 shooting while Stefan Welsh added 11 off the bench.
Auburn returns to action Wednesday night when the Tigers take on the Georgia Bulldogs at 8 p.m. at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
< ahref=http://auburntigers.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/stats/2009-2010/au0206.html>Basketball Box Score