But when the Tigers needed one last defensive stop, like earlier this week against Alabama, they couldn’t get it.
Arkansas forward Delvon Johnson got open after Auburn failed to make a defensive switch, receiving a pass from Julysses Nobles under the hoop and dunking it with 5 seconds remaining to lift the Razorbacks (18-10, 7-7 SEC) to a 57-55 win at the Auburn Arena on Saturday.
Auburn guard Josh Wallace got a good look at a long 3-pointer from just inside halfcourt at the final horn, but it was too strong, hitting the backboard and rim before bouncing away as the Tigers (9-19, 2-12 SEC) lost in the final seconds for the second time this week.
They lost a heartbreaker at Alabama on Wednesday 51-49 on a tip-in by JaMychal Green with .3 seconds left.
“It’s draining,” Wallace said. “You want to win. And to come so close and fight so hard, it hurts.”
The Tigers did their best to get SEC win No. 3, charging back after being down by 13 early in the second half. Auburn scored seven straight, starting with a 3-pointer by Earnest Ross with 3:49 to play. A Rob Chubb layup cut the lead to two before Kenny Gabriel got open for a layup with 28.1 seconds left to tie the game at 55.
Arkansas held for the final shot, finding an opening when Auburn guard Chris Denson got caught behind Johnson in the post after Gabriel called for a switch after being screened. The feed from Nobles was precise and Johnson had an easy two-handed jam.
“We executed our tails off defensively down the stretch, except for the very last play,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “We broke down. … I told the guys that even though that play happened, we lost this game a long time ago because of the way we started.”
The Tigers continued to struggle offensively, finishing with their second-lowest first-half point total this season.
They shot 26 percent in the first half and went into the locker room down 27-20 only by the good fortune of a goaltending call against Arkansas as the clock expired on a Wallace 3-pointer that didn’t appear to have a chance at going in. Wallace finished with 9 points and 5 assists.
Auburn missed easy looks all afternoon. Chubb air-balled a hook shot from three feet away. Ross, who finished with 11, missed an uncontested layup after a steal. Gabriel led the team with 13 points but took 16 shots to do so.
“Have we seen that before? Is that something new?” Barbee asked rhetorically. “We have seen it all year long. Offensively, we are what we are.”
Still, the Tigers hung close because of effort. They had nine steals, forced 17 turnovers that they converted into into 19 points and matched their SEC-high with five blocks.
Although Arkansas guard Rotnei Clarke, who finished with a game-high 17 points, hit several shots to keep it at bay, Auburn stuck close and gave themselves a chance.
“There is no quit in this team,” Barbee said. “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. Our team has done that all year long. I am proud of them for that.”