AUBURN, Ala. – Nothing about Auburn’s final game before Christmas made coach Tony Barbee feel jolly.
Barbee was openly worried about this sixth and final game of the homestand, and his fears were founded when Auburn slogged its way through a 74-67 defeat to visiting Winthrop Saturday night at Auburn Arena.
The execution was bad – Auburn shot 38 percent from the floor, including 3-for-23 from 3-point land (previously a strong point), and Winthrop made 49 percent of its field-goal attempts.
The effort was far more naughty than nice, at least in Barbee’s eyes.
“This game is always scary for coaches around the country, the one right before Christmas,” Barbee said. “You saw it all around our conference and the country today – teams get beat at home, because the team that’s locked in about winning first and then thinking about what you are doing for the holidays after the game is usually the one that wins.”
It was a tough day for the SEC indeed, with No. 8 Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M and Ole Miss also suffering poor losses.
But all Auburn can control is Auburn, and a chance to finish the home stretch on a four-game flurry was thwarted when Winthrop reserve Christian Farmer got ridiculously hot from 3-point land late, scoring 13 of his 15 points after halftime.
The Eagles (5-5), who won at Ohio and gave No. 7 Ohio State a tough game last week during this road trip, shot 52 percent in the second half. Following a 39-all tie, Winthrop soared on a 20-4 run.
“Obviously, we didn’t think about winning,” Barbee grumbled, “because we didn’t think about defending. We weren’t interested in guarding. That’s why they won the game.”
Auburn did close both halves well, but it wasn’t enough. The Tigers erased an early 8-point deficit to tie the game by halftime, and after trailing 70-60 with one minute remaining, Auburn drew within three points before Winthrop free throws sealed the victory.
“At times, we make coffee nervous,” Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said. “Sometimes your mentality is to hold on for dear life.”
Shaw graduate Chris Denson had ensured his fourth consecutive double-digit performance to open his season by halftime. Denson, with 18 points, once again enhanced his team-leading scoring average to 17.0 points per game.
Frankie Sullivan had a game-high 22 points, but was just 4-of-17 from the floor while sinking all 12 free throws he tried.
Nobody else produced more than eight points, and Barbee wasn’t even that thrilled with Denson and Sullivan.
“They were ball stoppers tonight. As soon as the ball hit their hands, everything came to a stop,” Barbee said. “Our offense was stagnant. Nobody was moving. Guys weren’t playing together.
“Huge step back. Huge lack of maturity. Huge lack of leadership. It’s like we were running in quicksand out there.”
Sullivan and Denson didn’t disagree with their coach. At all.
“It’s very disappointing,” Denson said. “To come out and play bad and people didn’t show effort and give up, it’s just disappointing to coach Barbee, the fans and everybody else.”
Sullivan specifically said Auburn (5-6) came out “real flat” – the Eagles led 19-11 from the opening tip.
“It has to be the players. Coach Barbee is not out there playing with us,” Sullivan said. “It’s just bad going into the break like this, especially having Illinois coming up. It’s not a good sign for us. We just have to pick it up.”
1) The Tigers finished the homestand 3-3, seeing its three-game win streak snapped. They have a week off before taking on No. 10 Illinois next Saturday at the United Center in Chicago.
The Fighting Illini (12-1) lost their first game of the year Saturday, to No. 12 Missouri in St. Louis.
2) Jordan Price will have to settle for sharing the SEC individual record of 11 consecutive 3-pointers made, with Vanderbilt’s Kevin Anglin in 1992.
After going perfect from downtown against Grambling State, Furman and Tennessee Tech, Price was tentative from the outset Saturday. He did not attempt a shot of any kind for the first 25 minutes, until he clanked a 3-point try off the back of the iron to end his streak.
Price was later called for a flagrant foul when he inadvertently swung an elbow into the face of Joab Jerome trying to create space. The freshman finished with two points.
3) Barbee himself drew a technical foul – his second of the year – in the first half. Center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum put himself in position to draw a charge, and when it wasn’t called, Shaq Johnson was forced to take a defensive foul. Barbee’s unfavorable reaction crossed the side official’s line.
Final thought: Auburn was thinking ahead to Christmas, Illinois and Florida State. A losing record in the cupcake part of the schedule … well, like Sullivan said, it’s not a good sign.
Next up: vs. No. 10 Illinois (12-1), United Center, Chicago, Dec. 29, 1:15 p.m. Big Ten Network