Tigers rally late, fall to Arkansas 76-73 in SEC Tournament

Auburn guard K.D. Johnson passes the ball from the floor as as Arkansas guard Davonte Davis...
Auburn guard K.D. Johnson passes the ball from the floor as as Arkansas guard Davonte Davis defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the Southeastern Conference men's tournament Thursday, March 9, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Amis)(JOHN AMIS | AP)
Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 12:37 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn (WSFA) - Auburn overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to take the lead in the final minute before falling to Arkansas 76-73 Thursday at Bridgestone Arena in the SEC Tournament.

“We’re disappointed in the outcome. Proud of the kids for battling back both halves,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “I thought the bench played really well and gave us a real chance. Lesser character teams would have quit, and this team hasn’t. Give Arkansas credit.”

Allen Flanigan drove the lane and scored with 41 seconds to play to put Auburn ahead 73-72, but Nick Smith Jr. answered with a baseline jumper with 16 seconds left to regain the lead for Arkansas.

After an Auburn turnover and foul, the Razorbacks hit a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left. The Tigers called timeout with 3.5 seconds to go to set up a final play that resulted in a clean look for a potential game-tying 3-pointer, but Wendell Green Jr.’s shot bounced off the rim at the buzzer.

“We got a good look,” Pearl said. “We made two really good runs in both halves. All we really needed was that stop at the end.”

K.D. Johnson led Auburn with 20 points off the bench on 7-of-10 shooting, but Arkansas capitalized on its size advantage to outrebound the Tigers 37-19 and outscore Auburn 18-6 in second-chance points.

“Their athleticism and length bothered us,” Pearl said. “As a result, we got dominated on the boards, which made it really difficult for us to win the basketball game.”

Flanigan scored 15 points, Johni Broome added 13 and led Auburn with seven rebounds, and Green scored 11 points and led the Tigers with four assists.

Trailing by 15 after a sluggish start to the second half, Auburn scored six unanswered points in 35 seconds on two Johnson buckets and a Flanigan steal and layup to trim the deficit to single digits.

Johnson scored all nine points in a 9-0 run that pulled Auburn within four at 59-55 with 9:15 to play before Smith hit a 3-pointer for Arkansas.

“K.D. is one of our most athletic players,” Pearl said. “His athleticism showed up for Auburn in a big way.”

“It felt good, but I really wanted to get this win,” said Johnson, who added three assists, two rebounds, two steals and was plus-14. “I wanted to get farther this year, that was my mission, and I failed, so we’re on to the next.”

Flanigan hit a pair of 3-pointers to keep the Tigers close, and Auburn continue to whittle away, pulling within one point at 72-71 on Jaylin Williams’ jumper in the paint with 1:30 to play. Auburn then forced a missed shot, and Broome grabbed before Flanigan gave the Tigers their first lead since the opening two minutes.

Auburn ended the first half on a 6-0 run to pull within four points at 37-33 after trailing by 10 at the 2:27 mark.

Johnson assisted Dylan Cardwell for a dunk. Then Johnson made layups on a backdoor cut from Williams and in transition after Green’s steal.

Arkansas made four straight buckets in the paint during an early 10-0 run that gave the Razorbacks a 10-2 lead before Green made three free throws to trim the Razorbacks’ lead to 10-5 at the 15:13 mark of the half, outrebounding the Tigers 5-1 in the process.

The Razorbacks outrebounded Auburn 19-7 in the half leading to an 8-0 advantage in second-chance points. Green led Auburn with 11 points in the half, while Cardwell and Johnson accounted for all 13 of Auburn’s bench points while combining to make all six of their shots.

Auburn (20-12) returns to the Plains to await Sunday’s NCAA Tournament pairings, anticipating a bid for the fourth time in the past five tournaments under Pearl.

“There are 260-something teams that are done and aren’t playing in this tournament,” Pearl said. “And Auburn is one of the teams that’s playing for a national championship. I told them I was proud of them to put themselves in that position.”

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