By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Chris Denson said Auburn's 66-64 win over Clemson on Thursday night came only after some reflection about what had transpired in the weeks before.
"We did a lot of looking in the mirror, especially the last two games," Denson said. "I guess we thought it would come easy, but winning is hard. If we play like that every night, we can play with anybody."
Auburn matched the nation's No. 1 defensive team step for step before jumping ahead, for good, with 43 seconds remaining. That was a far better defensive effort than in Auburn's last two games, a 99-70 loss to Iowa State and an 81-62 loss to Illinois.
"We fought tonight and that was apparent. And that translated on the defense," Denson said.
Auburn improved to 5-3 with a 1 p.m. Sunday game against Boston College in Auburn Areana waiting in the wings. Clemson fell to 8-3.
Auburn flipped things Thursday, leading by 11 in the first half, trailing by nine in the second half, and righting things for a down-to-the-wire finish.
"You have to keep fighting," said coach Tony Barbee. "That has to be our identity. We had I don't know how many hard days of practice since our last game."
Maybe 10, Barbee estimated.
"Fighting doesn't guarantee you anything," Barbee said. "It does guarantee that you will give yourself a chance to be in every ball game."
Denson led Auburn, as usual, this time with 19 points. But the Tigers also benefited from KT Harrell's 14 points and two pivotal players who made their biggest plays when it mattered the most.
Malcolm Canada stole the ball and passed it to Matthew Atewe, who made an old-fashioned 3-point play to tie the game at 58-58 with 2:41 left. That was his only points. Then, up by 1, Asauhn Dixon-Tatum blocked a shot with 26 seconds left. Auburn scored the next two points.
"I felt like I had to do something for the team, making one good play," Dixon-Tatum said.
"Asauhn didn't have his best stuff," Barbee said, "but the team stayed on Asauhn. I stayed on Asauhn about keep fighting and then make the play when it matters.
"We really locked in defensively, but that is what we have been working on in the last 10 days. I am glad it paid off for the guys so they could see all the success from their hard work."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter:Follow @AUGoldMine