Auburn put itself in great position to hand Arkansas its first loss of the season on Wednesday. Devan Cambridge hit a 3-pointer and Allen Flanigan a pair of free throws to tie the game at 74 points apiece with 7:30 remaining in the second half.
But then a young team started to look, well, young. The Tigers turned the ball over four times over the next four minutes, all of them scoreless. The Razorbacks scored 10 unanswered points.
That proved enough cushion for the visitors to escape Auburn Arena with a 97-85 victory to open SEC play.
Here are three things we learned:
1. Auburn’s defense is not SEC-ready
Auburn, aside struggling down the stretch, played well on offense. It shot 51.9% from the floor and made 15 of 29 attempts from beyond the arc. The 85 points it finished with marked its second-most in a non-overtime game this season.
Jamal Johnson scored a career-high 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting, and Flanigan 19 on 6-for-11.
“That’s a game you should win,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Unless you give up 97.”
It is the most points the Tigers (6-3, 0-1 SEC) have allowed in a game since Florida scored 114 on Feb. 14, 2017. The Razorbacks (9-0, 1-0) got them every which way – they shot 49.2% from the floor, made nine 3-pointers and hit 24 of 31 free throw attempts.
Five players finished in double figures. Desi Stills made four 3-pointers and led the team with 23 points on 8-for-15 shooting. JD Notae scored 21, 19 of which came in the second half.
Auburn’s defense had improved since it surrendered 90 points in each of its first two games, holding its last four opponents to 71 or fewer. But the level of competition just took a significant step up with the start of SEC play.
2. Turnovers continue to be a problem
Auburn hasn’t been good in this area all season season. It entered with more turnovers than any team in the SEC, committing at least 17 in six of its first eight games.
But laying against a better opponent exasperated the issue. Auburn committed 19 turnovers, which the Razorbacks turned into 27 of their 97 points. Seven of those turnovers came during the final seven minutes after the Tigers tied the game.
Justin Powell tied a career-high with nine assists, but also committed seven turnovers. Flanigan committed five. That’s 12 turnovers from the point guard position alone.
3. Devan Cambridge can still heat up from 3
If you’re looking for a positive, that’s one. The sophomore guard was largely silent through Auburn’s nonconference slate. He scored 13 points in the opener against Saint Joseph’s, then eight or fewer in six of his next seven games. He went scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting in the Tigers’ final nonconference game against Appalachian State.
Cambridge entered SEC play averaging just 6.6 points on 28.1% shooting (22.2% from 3).
Against Arkansas, though, he finally looked more like the volume scorer many thought he could be going into the season. He scored 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc, also chipping in four rebounds and a steal.
It’s the first time this season he’s shot better than 37% and it comes after four consecutive games in which he made two shots or fewer
We’ve seen Cambridge do this before. He made six threes in a win over South Carolina last season then another seven against LSU a few weeks later. But he went 0-for-5 during the four games in between those performances. The question is whether Wednesday’s breakout is the start of a hot streak, or just another blip.
Josh Vitale is the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoshVitale. To reach him by email, click here.