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February 26, 2011Arkansas dominated Auburn for the majority of the Saturday afternoon match-up at the Auburn Arena, but the Tigers demanded respect for the last 12 minutes of play.
In a game that at one point had the Razorbacks up by 13 in the first half, Kenny Gabriel's layup knotted the score at 55 with 29 seconds remaining.
Arkansas called timeout with 15 seconds left on the clock. The play that followed sealed the game in the Razorbacks' favor. An open Delvon Johnson received a pass from Julysses Nobles and dunked it for the 57-55 lead.
Auburn's Josh Wallace rushed down the court, and with two seconds left, attempted a three-pointer from just inside half-court range. The ball bounced off the rim, giving Arkansas the win.
"In that moment of the game, execution is very important," head coach Tony Barbee said. "We executed our tails off offensively down the stretch. We executed our tails off defensively down the stretch, except for the very last play. We broke down."
Barbee went on to say that the play failed because they were "switching everyone" and one player didn't switch. However, he didn't blame the loss on the mishap.
"I told the guys even though that play happened, we lost this game a long time ago because of the way that we started," Barbee said. "We started slow and know you find yourself trying to dig yourself out of a hole. I'm proud of the guys for the way they fought back, but if you're a little better offensively then we're out digging ourselves out of a hole the entire game. We are up seven at half, ten at half, or fifteen at half. I'm proud of the guys for the way they fought back, but we lost this game way before that last play when our execution broke defensively. Give them credit they executed a well-run offensive play."
It was the second consecutive loss for Auburn with a two-point margin. The Tigers were coming off a 51-49 loss to rival Alabama earlier in the week that was sealed with 00.3 seconds on the clock.
The Razorbacks, however, were coming off an overtime upset of Kentucky Wednesday. They commanded an early lead over Auburn with the help of Rotnei Clarke who ruled the game with 17 total points. Nine of his total came in the form of three-pointers.
Marcus Britt added 10 points while Michael Sanchez chipped in seven. Six points came from Johnson including the game-winner.
"They are a good team," Wallace said. "Rotnie Clark is a knock-down shooter. Hat is off to them, they came up with the win. I feel that we could have got this one, but we let it slip away."
On the Auburn side, Gabriel led the team with 13 points, three rebounds, two steals and a block. Earnest Ross accounted for 11 points, seven rebounds and an assist.
The Tigers struggled in the shooting department as they went just 3-of-12 from beyond the arc with three-pointers coming from Gabriel, Ross and Wallace. Field goals didn't fair much better as Auburn made just 35.8 percent of its shots.
"Have we seen that before? Is that something new? We have seen it all year long," Barbee said. "Offensively, we are what we are. We are challenged, but it is nothing different. We've done it all year long, but there is no quit in this team. That is what we have to be about as our foundation. We are coming at you and if we lose it is because we ran out of time, not because we gave up, and our team has done that all year long. I am proud of them for that."
The Tigers showed promise from the free-throw line. They made more than 75 percent of their 18 attempts. Gabriel, Wallace and Chris Denson were perfect from the line throughout the game.
Up next for Auburn is a midweek meeting with Ole Miss. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Auburn Arena. Fans are encouraged to wear orange for the All Auburn, All Orange promotion.