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'It's a huge step back'

AUBURN - It came suddenly, but not expectedly for Auburn coach Tony Barbee. He'd seen the signs from the start.

Tony Barbee says his team did not come to play against Winthrop/Todd Van Emst photo

Auburn and Winthrop were tied 39-39 with 14:20 left in Saturday night's game at Auburn Arena. With 9:54 left, just 4:36 off the clock, Winthrop completed a 20-4 run, hitting five 3-pointers, and led 59-43. Auburn fought back down the stretch, getting to within three in the final minute, but the damage was done. Winthrop won 74-67.

Auburn saw its three-game winning streak end and fell to 5-6 going into the Christmas break. The Tigers go on the road next Saturday to play No. 10 Illinois in Chicago. They return home to play Florida State Jan. 2 and open the Southeastern Conference season against LSU at home on Jan. 9.

Winthrop shot 52.2 percent from the field in the second half and 49 percent for the game. Auburn shot 38.3 percent for the game. Auburn had 34 rebounds to Winthrop's 29 and had more points in the paint, more second-chance points, more points off turnovers and more fastbreak points. It wasn't enough.

"It's a huge step back," Barbee said, "a huge lack of maturity, a huge lack of leadership."

And Barbee was just getting started.

"This game is always scary for every coach around the country, the one right before Christmas," Barbee said. "You saw it all around our conference today, all around the country - teams getting beat at home. The team that is locked in and worried about winning first and then after the game thinking about what you are going to do for the holidays, that's usually the team that wins. Obviously, we weren't thinking about winning because we didn't think about defending.

"They shot 50 percent from the floor, a team that has shot 35 percent against every Division I team they've played this year. We didn't guard. Bottom line. We weren't interested in guarding, and that's why they won the game."

Auburn's lack of defense showed up most of all in Winthrop's decisive run.

"They had a bunch of wide-open shots," Barbee said. "They had guys that made shots in that run. Obviously, our transition defense wasn't very good at that point and they got a lot of those 3's in transition. It came down to the whole night I'm over there begging, screaming and pleading for these guys to defend, and they had no interest in defending."

Frankie Sullivan led Auburn in scoring with 22 points, going 12-for-12 at the free throw line. But he was just 4-of-17 from the field. Chris Denson had 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting.

"We can't count on two guys and be a good team," Barbee said. "I don't think they played well offensively, either. They were ball-stoppers. As soon as the ball hit their hands, everything stopped. Our offense was stagnant. Guys weren't moving. Guys weren't playing together. Again, it comes down to we were thinking about how we were getting home, what we were doing for the holidays when we got there, everything except let's win this game. That was evident. It was like we were running in quick sand out there."

Barbee got no argument from Sullivan or Denson. They agreed there was something missing on the night before Christmas break.

"Effort, man," Sullivan said. "That's all it is. We came out real flat, and we paid for it big-time."

Said Denson: "It's very disappointing. Knowing we go hard at practice to come out and jus play bad and people not show effort is disappointing to Coach Barbee, the fans and everybody else. It felt like we were just sluggish. We were a step behind on everything."

Freshman guard Jordan Price went into the game with 11 consecutive made 3-pointers, tying the SEC record. He didn't get a shot in the first half but missed the only two 3-pointers he took in the second half. His streak ended four short of the NCAA record.

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