AUBURN - In a season of so many near misses, this one might have been the most painful of all for Auburn's basketball team.
Kenny Gabriel slams home a dunk against Arkansas/Todd Van Emst photo
Up 17 with 6:55 left in the first half, up 12 with 17:19 left in the game, the Tigers gradually crumbled. Arkansas, loser of five of its last six and winless on the road, came all the way back to win 77-71 before a crowd of 8,012 at Auburn Arena.
Point guard Varez Ward and guard Chris Denson did not play. Head coach Tony Barbee said they have been suspended indefinitely. Their absence, Barbee said, didn't make what happened any easier to swallow.
"When we show as little heart and fight and desire as we did the last 20 minutes," Barbee said, "it's embarrassing."
Senior forward Kenny Gabriel agreed that he and his teammates let one get away.
"We just stopped playing defense," Gabriel said. "We got complacent. Basically, that sums everything up. We were knocking down shots at the beginning. Near the end, we were just kind of taking hero shots. We just stopped playing defense.
"It's real tough, because we know we could have won that game easily. All we had to do was take care of the ball, make the simple plays and just play defense like we were playing. Obviously, you could tell we stopped playing defense."
Auburn fell to 14-14 overall and 4-10 with games left at Alabama on Wednesday and at home against LSU on Saturday Arkansas improved to 18-11 and 6-8.
With 2:22 left in the game, Rob Chubb's short jumper gave Auburn a 70-69 lead. But BJ Young hit a layup at the other end to make it 71-70 and Auburn would not lead again.
After shooting a blistering 58.6 percent from the field in the first half, including hitting five of their first seven 3-point tries, the Tiers shot just 37.5 percent in the second half. They made just 1 of their last 13 3-point tries. Arkansas shot 50 percent in the first half and 54.2 percent for the game.
"We gave them a lot of confidence," Barbee said. "We had them on the ropes. We just don't have the team here yet to put a team like that away. We had them ready to go away and gave them confidence based on how we performed when we go up 17.
Allen Payne and Frankie Sullivan led Auburn with 15 points apiece. Gabriel scored 14 and Chubb 11.