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January 11, 2014

Tigers fall flat against Missouri

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AUBURN | The Tigers did this to themselves.

Auburn dropped its second straight conference game this season Saturday with a 70-68 home loss to No. 21 Missouri.

Down three points with 25 seconds left, the Tigers ran 20 seconds off the clock looking for an open three-pointer. With none available, senior guard Chris Denson drove the lane and drew a foul. After Denson only made one of his two attempts, the game seemed over for Auburn until Missouri forward Torren Jones stepped out of bounds to give Auburn 2.9 seconds to tie or win the game.

Instead, Auburn (8-5, 0-2 SEC) threw the ball -- and the game -- away as Tahj Shamsid-Deen's inbound pass was picked off by Missouri to seal the loss.

And yet, by all accounts, it should have won.

Auburn held Missouri to 32 percent shooting while shooting 43 percent itself. KT Harrell again showed his value to the team with a 27-point effort. The Auburn Arena was packed for the first time this season and Auburn fed off that energy to come up with big stops and bigger scores.

Except when it mattered most.

"Defensively we played a great game," coach Tony Barbee said after the loss. "Offensively we executed fairly well. When it matters most in these moments, your execution has to be at its highest."

It wasn't.

Fans can blame the refs. There were 20 fouls called during the first half alone. In the second half a questionable call on Matthew Atewe turned into a technical foul after a confusing run-in with the referee.

Fans can blame Missouri, which turned those fouls into 31 made free throws compared to Auburn's 14.

And yet, in the end all the blame falls on Auburn.

"The little things beat us today," Harrell said. "We're going to keep trying to fight and keep trying to win games at home."

Auburn couldn't convert its own chances at the line shooting only 54 percent on 26 free throw attempts.

Denson, normally a sharpshooter for the Tigers, has been abnormally cold from the line lately. He went 3-of-10 Saturday and has now shot 38 percent duting the last three games.

"We've been working on it," Barbee said. "He knows it's an issue."

Barbee said Auburn got "crushed" on the backboard as Missouri (13-2, 1-1) out-rebounded the home team on both ends of the floor.

It's somewhat encouraging that Auburn's two SEC losses have been by a total of five points, but the fact is that the Tigers have shown the ability to compete in league games.

They finished last during the 2012-13 season.

This is Auburn's twelfth consecutive loss to an SEC opponent dating back to last season. Forward Allen Payne was held out after suffering a hamstring injury in Auburn's 65-62 loss to Ole Miss Thursday.

Former Auburn guard Earnest Ross scored 16 points and added seven boards in his homecoming game. Ross transferred to Missouri in June 2011 after leading Auburn in points and rebounds as a sophomore.

Auburn resumes play Wednesday night at Tennessee.



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