"This game is always scary for coaches around the country, the one right before Christmas," Auburn head coach Tony Barbee said. "You saw it all around our conference. You saw it all around the country today. Teams get beat at home, because the team that locked in on winning first and then after the game thinking about what you are going to do for the holidays is usually the one that wins. Obviously, we weren't thinking about winning, because we weren't defending, because they shot 50 percent from the floor. They are a team that shoots 35 percent against every Division I team they have played this year. We didn't guard, bottom line. They were interested in guarding. That is why they won the game."
Auburn's deficit grew to as many as 16 points in the second half, but the Tigers refused to go away. Following a 3-pointer by Sullivan with 54 seconds left, the Tigers stole an inbounds pass and the senior then sank two free throws to make it 70-65 with 50 seconds to go.
Sullivan was 12-of-12 from the foul line for the game to go with six rebounds and five assists. The Uniontown, Ala. native has hit 17 straight free throws dating back to the Tennessee Tech win. Denson added five rebounds and three assists.
After a Winthrop time out, Shaq Johnson forced a jump ball that resulted in an Auburn possession with 41.3 seconds remaining. Allen Payne scored a put-back to make it 70-67 with just 30 seconds left.
Andre Smith connected on two free throws for the Eagles after a foul by the Tigers to stretch Auburn's deficit back to five. The Tigers then missed a 3-point try and fouled again with Derrick Henry converting a pair for the final margin.
Winthrop sank five-straight baskets as it took a 19-11 lead after eight minutes played in the opening half. The Tigers used a 10-3 run to close the gap and tie the game at 26-all with 4:17 remaining before halftime.
Auburn took its first lead since holding a 2-0 advantage on a three-point play by Shaq Johnson at 29-28 with 2:21 to go. After trading baskets, the two teams went into the intermission tied at 33.
Back-to-back treys by Winthrop's Christian Farmer gave the Eagles a 45-39 lead 13:18 left in the game. The pair of 3-pointers capped a 9-2 run. Winthrop then stretched its run to 16-4 and took its largest lead to that point at 52-41 with 11:03 on the clock.
Farmer hit another pair of 3-pointers as the Eagles built their lead to 59-43 with less than 10 minutes remaining. Auburn followed with an 8-0 run to get the deficit into single digits with 8:05 left in the game.
Joab Jerome paced Winthrop with 16 points, while Farmer scored 15 points off the bench.
Auburn now breaks for Christmas and is in action next on December 29 in Chicago at the United Center against No. 10 Illinois. The match-up will be televised by the Big 10 Network.