Classes have not even started, and students are still enjoying their winter breaks, but when Wendell Green Jr. opened the game with a four-point play, there was a sense of something different in the air of Neville Arena. It was not a perfect game for the Tigers, but Auburn's game plan was sound, and the Jungle roared once again as the Tigers took down the No. 13 Razorbacks 72-59.
Auburn is now 12-3, with all three losses on the road and a 27-game winning streak at home, the third-longest in the NCAA.
For Green, he has faced his share of struggles as the offense tried to find its groove in December. Auburn's guard play has been heavily criticized in recent weeks. Green provided the spark that the Tigers needed, scoring the first 7 of the game for Auburn and never looking back.
"I haven't been like that since I hurt my foot. I'm healthy, and it was really good to see that first shot go in," said Green. "We know what we're capable of. We've just got to show it every night."
With 19 points on an efficient 5-of-8 from the field and dishing out five assists, Green led the Tigers' attack against the Razorbacks. He was joined by a confident Allen Flanigan(18) and John Broome(10) as the trio of Tigers in double figures.
Flanigan has seen his share of ups and downs following a strong sophomore season, but the senior small forward showed his potential against a talented and tenacious Razorback defense. With 18 points and eight rebounds, Flanigan's size inside helped the Tigers against the bigger Razorbacks, but his 3-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc was also vital.
"You only get out of the game what you put in it. I've been staying constantly in the gym, and tonight, it showed," Flanigan said. "Being able to step up tonight for my teammates was big. It definitely boosts the confidence."
While the offense brought enough for the Tigers, the defense once again carried Auburn to victory, as well as an efficient night from the charity stripe.
With Arkansas' size advantage, the Razorbacks have been a poor three-point shooting team throughout the season at 29%. Bruce Pearl knew this, crafting a base 2-3 zone that forced Arkansas into traffic when attacking the basket or taking shots outside the paint.
"Arkansas is better from two than three. That little flat 2-3 zone bothered them. They really struggled with it. They're going to see it all year long. Our guys did a good job with it," said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. "We have it in the package, and I think it also helped our man defense."
As a result of the Tigers' relentless defense, the Razorbacks shot 33.9% from the field and 12.5% from beyond the arc. However, the real issues for the Razorbacks came at the free throw line. This season, Arkansas has hit 71% of its shots from the free throw line, but tonight inside Neville Arena was different. The Razorbacks earned 32 shots at the charity stripe thanks to an offense built around attacking the basket, but they hit just 19 of those shots, good for 59% on the night.
Anthony Black was the best player on the floor for Arkansas with a team-leading 23 points, including 13-of-16 from the free throw line. Without Black's shots, the rest of the team shot 6-of-16 at the free-throw line.
"The league knows Anthony Black, just like they knew Jabari Smith. But I've got good players, too," Pearl said.
There is no rest in the SEC, as Auburn will hit the road for a short turnaround and a matchup with Ole Miss(8-7, 0-3 SEC) in Oxford. The Rebels have struggled after a strong start to the year, losing seven of their last nine, but the matchup will be away from the friendly confines of Neville Arena as the Tigers look to get their 13th win.
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