Chris Denson scored 19 points and Auburn hit 4 of 6 free throws over the final 43 seconds to preserve a 66-64 win over Clemson on Thursday night after back-to-back lopsided defeats.
“We fought all night, and I don’t think we did that in the last two games,” Denson said. “They had that run when we got down by (nine) and the last two games, in our mind, the game would be over.”
Denson hit 1 of 2 free throws with 43 seconds left to give Auburn (5-3) a 63-62 lead. Then Asauhn Dixon-Tatum left his man and blocked Rod Hall’s jumper.
Tahj Shamsid-Deen grabbed the rebound and he and KT Harrell pushed the ball across midcourt and milked 10 seconds off the clock before Clemson managed to foul. Harrell hit both free throws with 14 seconds left.
Clemson (8-3) called timeout with 4.5 seconds left but Auburn fouled Jordan Roper before he could get a shot off. He missed both foul shots, but the ball went out of bounds to Clemson. Landry Nnoka hit a quick layup off an inbounds pass with 2 seconds remaining to cut it to 65-64.
“Obviously I didn’t want to do it,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “Auburn did a good job. They knew we needed a 3-point shot, and they put almost everyone outside the 3-point line. I would have liked to see Landry turn and try to throw it to somebody for a 3-point shot.”
After a quick foul, Allen Payne hit one of two free throws with 1 second left. Rod Hall’s desperation heave from nearly full-court bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
Harrell added 14 points for Auburn, which scored 14 more than the nation’s stingiest defense came in allowing.
Auburn also shot 47.3 percent (26 of 55) against a defense that came in leading the nation in field goal percentage defense (33.7).
“We kept fighting. We were nowhere near a perfect game,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “We made a lot of mistakes. You have to keep fighting. That has to be our identity.”
Birmingham native K.J. McDaniels led Clemson with 18 points and seven rebounds. Hall had 16 points and made 8 of 10 free throws. Jordan Roper added 12.
Clemson had given up just 35 points in its last game against Furman but wasn’t nearly as effective defensively against Auburn.
Clemson scored the first nine points of the second half to break a halftime deadlock and open up a 43-34 lead. Auburn missed its first eight shots and didn’t score until Dixon-Tatum’s putback with 13:44 left.
That started Auburn on a 16-5 run that included Malcolm Canada’s basket after the fourth offensive rebound of a possession. Denson’s layup gave Auburn a 50-48 lead with 8:07 left and it went back and forth from there.
It was a marked turnaround for Auburn, which had been routed by Iowa State and Illinois in its last two games after falling way behind by halftime.
“When we watched the film, we were just disgusted,” Denson said. “We did a lot of looking at the mirror and we had a great week of practice and it translated tonight.”
Clemson had wiped out an early 11-point deficit to tie the game 34-34 at halftime. Hall hit two straight 3-pointers in the final minute to even it up.
Auburn went 5:13 without a field goal during one stretch, but still made 15 of 27 shots (55.6) in the half.
Auburn struggled at the line, making 10 of 19 attempts. Denson missed four of his five foul shots.
“Our start was awful,” Brownell said. “I don’t really know why. We were ready to play.”
Auburn had managed just 17 points before the half in the last game against Illinois and was down 19 at halftime versus Iowa State. Then Auburn went back to work.
“I am glad it paid off for the guys so they could see all the success from their hard work,” Barbee said.
It was the first time Clemson had played in Auburn since 1935 and the teams hadn’t met since the NIT in 1993.