AUBURN, Ala. – Some variation of the word “disappointing” was spoken five times in despairing Auburn coach Tony Barbee’s first 73 seconds at the podium.
Look closer into the transcript, and there’s several telltale signs that Barbee, whose demanding system hasn’t paid off into success deep into his third season at Auburn, has lost control of his team.
For the third time in as many years, Auburn allowed Arkansas a rare road victory Wednesday in the Razorbacks’ 83-75 victory in front of a paid attendance of 5,783 fans.
Since Barbee took over the program in October 2010, Arkansas is 3-0 in the sparkling-new Auburn Arena. Bizarre, because the Razorbacks are 1-22 in every other road game during the same span.
That makes eight losses in nine games for the freefalling Tigers (9-15, 3-8 SEC), who watched a 2-point halftime lead evaporate into a 12-point deficit midway through the second half.
“Very disappointing. We got down by 10, but we fought our tails off – together – in the first half,” Barbee said. “And then the second half, we didn’t do it. It’s … it’s disappointing.
“I wish I had the answers. If I did, it wouldn’t happen.”
Immediately after Marshawn Powell and Mardracus Wade hit back-to-back threes in a 20-second sequence to push Arkansas (15-9, 6-5) ahead 59-47, Barbee yanked his veterans, insisting on letting his younger players get their chance at a comeback victory.
“I was disappointed in my veteran players. That’s all that was,” Barbee said, late into the night following a lengthy postgame locker room talk with his downtrodden team.
“I told these guys I’m looking for a group of guys who are going to fight down the stretch. I don’t care if it’s the seniors, I don’t care if it’s the freshmen. I’m looking for a group of guys that are going to fight for each other.”
Over a 4-minute, 20-second span, with Chubb and Dixon-Tatum watching from the bench, Auburn sailed to an 11-2 run, punctuated by a flying Shaq Johnson alley-oop dunk set up by Chris Denson’s pinpoint dish to shave Arkansas’ lead to 61-59.
However, Powell answered with a 3-point play, giving the Hogs some breathing room. Auburn never again made it a one-possession game.
Arkansas had been 0-8 away from home, and 0-6 in true road games this year. The Razorbacks lost by 18 at Texas A&M, by 18 at Vanderbilt, and by 21 at – egads – South Carolina.
But the Tigers failed to mind the three-point line, and Arkansas happily capitalized making 9-of-21 deep balls. B.J. Young (25 points) and Powell (20) led the Razorbacks’ scoring efforts.
For the first time since January 2012, Sullivan was not in the starting lineup, breaking a 36-game streak. The senior, who ranks tenth all-time in Auburn scoring, has 85 career starts to his name.
After a dormant first half, Sullivan heated up after intermission – a common trend with the Tigers’ leading scorer this year – and finished with 11 points.
While his 31 minutes led Auburn, Sullivan was not made available postgame to answer for this change in the starting lineup.
“I still didn’t get the results I wanted from not starting him. I’m just searching with Frankie,” Barbee said. “I think he’s putting way too much pressure on himself as a senior to finish, and it happens with all seniors. They start to see the end of the tunnel, and you can’t play that way, because you can’t take that type of pressure, individually.”
With Sullivan relegated to a reserve role, at least on the stat sheet, Denson took advantage of his eighth start this season. Ever the aggressor, Denson led the Tigers with 18 points on an efficient 6-for-9 clip, and even sank his lone 3-point try while chipping in five assists.
But that wasn’t enough to stop the Razorbacks’ 83-point onslaught, including 21 off turnovers. As Barbee pointed out, not one of Auburn’s 16 coughups were due to Arkansas’ normally-suffocating full-court press.
“You see they have a lot of easy dunks,” Denson said, “and that’s just bonehead plays, it’s not talking and communicating.”
Denson was the only Tiger made available to speak afterwards, and while he was one of the players on the court fighting down the stretch of a close game, he admitted frustration not everybody’s on the same page per Barbee’s standards.
“That’s very disappointing, and for the people that are playing and fought the last two games, and to see the people not fighting tonight, it is just disappointing,” Denson said. “It’s not coach’s fault. It’s all on us, and like he said, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror – everybody, myself included.”
– In the most exciting moment of the evening – except for perhaps Johnson’s alley-oop slam – Auburn sophomore student Stephen Bass hit a layup, free throw, 3-pointer and, at the buzzer, a half-court shot in 24 seconds to win a $5,000 tuition prize from Golden Flakes during halftime entertainment.
The crowd erupted when Bass’ half-court heave went in, and while the shot was reviewed, official word from the university dictated Bass, an undecided major from Murfreesboro, Tenn., will have a little good news for mom and dad (or some relief from student loans.)
– Chubb was 2-for-8 from the floor, committing five turnovers and four fouls in 17 minutes.
“I have no idea where he’s at,” said a disgruntled Barbee. “Wasn’t here tonight, though.”
– Auburn’s assignment gets no easier Saturday afternoon, when No. 6-ranked Florida visits Auburn Arena for a 1:47 p.m. ET tipoff.