Donny Calton and Marquis Daniels watch the action from the bench.
Appropriately, a pair of seniors, Derrick Bird and Marquis Daniels, led the charge at both ends of the floor as Auburn took a 69-54 basketball victory that put the Tigers back into a first place tie with the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the division. That sets up a Saturday showdown on State's homecourt for first place in the SEC West in the regular season finale.
"Having a chance to win the championship is where we wanted to be at the end of the season," said Daniels, who scored 15 points while leading the Tigers in rebounds with seven. Bird, who admitted he was nervous going into the game, said his legs felt like "rubber bands" early in the contest. However, a half hour break in the first half helped him settle down. The timeout was courtesy of sophomore forward Brandon Robinson, who came off the bench and slammed dunk a ball so hard that it broke the rim.
Coliseum crew members were called on to install a new rim in the first half.
"There was a lot of frustration going into that shot," said Robinson, who has been in and out of the lineup in recent weeks with an ankle injury. He said the ankle didn't cause him problems on Wednesday after going through nearly three hours of therapy as he contributed 10 points and six rebounds.
Fellow senior Derrick Bird led all scorers in the game with 20 points and chipped in with six rebounds. "It is a wonderful feeling winning my last home game," Bird said.
Derrick Bird led all scorers in the contest.
Auburn improved its record to 8-7 in the conference and 19-9 overall against an Arkansas team that came in with the momentum of back-to-back impressive wins over Vandy on the road and Mississippi State at home. State dropped to 8-7 in the league after losing earlier in the evening at Tennessee.
"Our press was good and our defense was strong," said Coach Cliff Ellis, who also had praise for the way the Tigers attacked the boards even though they were outrebounded 42-35 in a very physical game made even more physical by an officiating crew that struggled with calls from start to finish. Arkansas tried to outmuscle the Tigers early in the game, but Auburn stepped up to the physical challenge and took control of the contest after a slow start.
The game opened as a defensive struggle. Arkansas broke the ice three minutes and 12 seconds into the action on a basket by Dionisio Gomez. Auburn didn't score for the first five minutes and 26 seconds when Bird hit two free throws following a technical foul when Arkansas was guilty of having six players on the floor.
Brandon Robinson said he was able to play significant minutes because his ankle responded to treatment this week.
Auburn pulled even at the 11:55 mark on a pair of free throws by Lewis Monroe, who was intentionally fouled on a fastbreak layup attempt. Auburn's run hit 12 uncontested points at the 9:25 mark when Robinson stuffed on a fastbreak to put the Tigers up 17-10. However, in the process he ruined the breakaway rim at the north end of Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. That produced a delay of 27 minutes, including a short re-warmup period to put up a new rim and restart the contest.
The Auburn run reached 15-0 as Bird hit a three-pointer on the Tigers' first possession after the restart. That put the Tigers up 20-10.
The Razorbacks answered with a 6-0 run, but the Tigers stretched the lead to 25-16 as Marco Killingsworth hit a three-pointer and two of three free throws when he was fouled after going to a second straight trey.
The Tigers stretched their lead to a dozen at the 4:17 mark of the first half when senior Donny Calton hit one of two free throws to break into the statistical column on his Senior Night.
Auburn's biggest lead of the first 20 minutes was 35-18 following a fastbreak layup by Robinson, who didn't go for the rim-breaking stuff this time. "I was being a smart man on that one," Robinson said with a grin, noting he didn't want to risk getting a technical foul for hanging on the rim. "Two points is two points," he added. Auburn took that same lead into the dressing room at the break.
The Tigers built their first half lead by holding the Razorbacks to 30.8 percent shooting and just one three-point shot. Auburn shot 36.7 percent and made six treys plus 7-9 free throws while the Razorbacks were just 1-4 at the free throw line.
The Razorbacks cut the gap to 12 points early in the second half, but Auburn's fullcourt pressure helped the Tigers regain the whip hand. The lead ballooned to 21 on a hook shot by Davis to put the Tigers ahead 47-26 at the 13:55 mark.
Auburn's largest lead was 23 at the 4:55 mark when Daniels hit a mid-range jumper to put the Tigers up 62-39.