FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – For the first 16 minutes, Auburn did just about everything right. But the momentum started to turn late in the first half, and Arkansas flipped the script in the second half, rallying for a 75-73 victory Wednesday night.
“Disappointing loss,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “We kind of let one get away. Great first 16 minutes of basketball on the road. We played really well at both ends. The last three or four minutes of the first half, we kind of took our foot off the gas and gave Arkansas some confidence.”
The Tigers had chances to win it in the closing seconds. They used a 7-0 run late to draw within one, giving Sharife Cooper a chance to win the game. But with less than five seconds left, Cooper had his shot blocked at the rim, and then after Arkansas made 1 of 2 free throws, Allen Flanigan’s desperation 3 at the buzzer fell short.
Cooper scored a game-high 25 points to lead Auburn. The freshmen point was 9 of 19 from the floor and knocked down a pair of 3s. He’s now scored 25 or more points in three of the four games he’s played in this season and is averaging 22.5 points per game.
Seven of Cooper’s 25 points came in the first 10 minutes as the Tigers jumped out to a 23-8 lead on the road. But as good as they were offensively, they were even better on the defensive end.
This was the same Arkansas team who scored 97 points in Auburn Arena less than a month ago, and Auburn held them to two points over a span of eight minutes during what was a 16-2 run in the first half. At halftime, it was 43-31 in favor of Auburn, and the Tigers had forced 11 turnovers with five blocks and five steals.
It was a team effort, too. Allen Flanigan had four steals, three coming in the first half. JT Thor added three steals. Babatunde Akingbola and Javon Franklin each had two blocks apiece in the first 20 minutes while Jaylin Williams blocked a shot in each half.
Thor joined Cooper in double figures with 12 points while also pulling down a team-high five rebounds and chipping in three steals and two blocks.
Franklin gave Auburn a much-needed lift midway through the second half, knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Tigers back in front shortly after they had given up the lead for the first time. It was the first two 3s of the season for Flanigan who finished with a career-high eight points. He also had four rebounds and two blocks.
It will be a short turnaround for the Tigers who travel to South Carolina on Saturday. The game is scheduled to tip off at 11 a.m. CT and will be televised on ESPN2.