Jan. 18, 2014
AUBURN, Ala. - One team had lost 13 consecutive games to Southeastern Conference teams. The other had won eight straight games and was ranked No. 7 in all the land. For most of Saturday's basketball game at Auburn Arena, it would have been difficult for the uninformed to say which was which.
Auburn players, playing with determination and passion, fought back from a 13-point deficit with a 14-0 run of their own to lead Florida by one in the first half and trailed by just one at halftime. Through most of the second half, they had a counterpunch for almost every Florida punch.
But in the end, at winning time, it went much like it went at home against Missouri and on the road at Ole Miss and at Tennessee. Despite all their effort, the Tigers just could not make it happen. Florida put the game away at the free throw line and escaped with a 68-61 victory.
KT Harrell, who had hit 4-of-5 3-pointers, couldn't hit the one that would have tied it in the final minute. Florida answered with a couple of free throws at the other end, and Auburn was done.
Foul trouble plagued the Tigers for most of the second half. Seven-foot center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum managed to stay on the floor for just 13 minutes. He got two rebounds and didn't score a point. Tahj Shamsid-Deen, just a freshman but the most impressive Auburn point guard in some time, fouled out late.
Florida was the better team. The Gators had more rebounds, more points in the paint. They shot better from the field. But on this day, Auburn was almost as good and might have been better with a made shot here or a bounce there. But almost is getting old for those who watch, those who play and those who coach.
The hard reality is that Auburn is 8-7 overall and 0-4 in the SEC.
This team plays really, really hard, which is a testament to the players who do it and the coaches who teach it. But so far, all that has come from that effort is heartbreak.
Fourth-year Auburn coach Tony Barbee wouldn't put it this way, but he clearly likes this team more than he liked the previous three. He has said for two weeks and he said again Saturday that this shall pass, that this Auburn team will break through.
"Losing is not our destiny," Barbee said.
No SEC team has played a tougher first four games, and the Tigers have been in every game. Why they haven't been able to, at least a time or two, make the play that makes the difference is something they have to figure out. And there are 14 SEC games still to play.
When you watch this team play, it's clear that it has not backed off. But that breakthrough has to come soon or the climb back might be too steep.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: