|Updated: 1/26/2012 12:43 pm
||Published: 1/25/2012 10:17 pm
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas coach Mike Anderson was just happy the crowd stayed around for the second half.
Despite struggling throughout, the Razorbacks improved to 15-0 in Bud Walton Arena this season with a 56-53 win over Auburn on Wednesday night.
It's their best start to open a season since a 15-0 mark at home during the 1997-98 season, though they did lose a home game in North Little Rock earlier this season to Houston.
Arkansas (15-5, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) looked little like the same team that defeated then-No. 20 Michigan on Saturday, particularly in the first half. The Razorbacks were 4 of 27 (15 percent) and trailed 22-19 at halftime.
"It was a game that was a grinder," Anderson said. "I appreciate the fans staying around after that first half. I mean, you shoot (15) percent ... you figure you're really, really struggling, and indeed we were.
"I think the saving grace was our defense."
That defense, which entered the game leading the SEC in turnovers, forced Auburn (12-8, 2-4) into 21 turnovers and held the Tigers to 40 percent (21 of 52) shooting.
Still, it took a 12-2 second-half run and a bit of late fortune for Arkansas to claw its way back into the lead. BJ Young led the Razorbacks with 11 points, but the win wasn't secured until Kenny Gabriel misfired on a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
"I can attribute it to the Michigan hangover," Anderson said. "That's what you call that. That's the Michigan hangover, where you heard all the pundits and people talk about what they did against a very good Michigan team ... not knowing that we're getting ready to go back into conference play, and every team is capable of beating anyone at any point in time."
Arkansas led 52-51 in the final minute before Young hit a jumper to increase the lead to three. The freshman followed that shortly after with a one-handed dunk on a breakaway to put the Razorbacks up 56-51.
Auburn closed to within 56-53 after a layup by Josh Wallace with 14.4 seconds left. Mardracus Wade then missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw attempt with 7.4 seconds left, giving the Tigers one final shot.
Gabriel's 3-point attempt, however, was off the mark - ending Auburn's two-game winning streak.
Afterward, Tigers coach Tony Barbee was unhappy a foul on Arkansas wasn't called when Adrian Forbes grabbed the rebound following Wade's missed free throw in the closing seconds.
"It was a huge no-call," Barbee said. "You've got to call the foul no matter what point of the game. No matter the time, no matter the score, no matter the situation, if there's a foul, you're supposed to blow the whistle and there wasn't one blown."
Arkansas finished the game 19 of 54 (35 percent) from the field, and it trailed 37-30 early in the second half before a 17-6 run put it up 47-43. Rickey Scott scored the final eight points of the run, his only points of the game, and the Razorbacks didn't trail after that.
"It's a great thing for our team," Young said. "We stayed together and really focused on the defensive end because we couldn't throw it in the ocean (in the first half)."
Neither team had much life in the first half, combining for nearly double the number of turnovers (24) as field goals (13).
Arkansas, which opened the win over Michigan 11 of 11 from the field, hit only two of its first 20 shots against the Tigers. The misses ranged from 3-point attempts (1 of 10) to a missed one-handed dunk by Julysses Nobles on a breakaway following a steal.
Nobles and Ky Madden each finished with 10 points for the Razorbacks, who scored 21 points off turnovers and shot 56 percent (15 of 27) in the second half.
"We went to the locker room and we talked," Nobles said. "We knew we couldn't play (any) worse (of a) half than that. We just focused on coming out and still coming out and playing good defense and making shots, and that's what we did."
Auburn, which didn't fare much better in the shooting department, took a 14-10 lead late in the half thanks to a nearly 10-minute stretch without a field goal by the Razorbacks. The Tigers were 9 of 24 (38 percent) from the field in the half and committed 15 turnovers.
Gabriel led Auburn with 13 points, while Frankie Sullivan and Chris Denson added 10 apiece.
"It's pretty tough," Gabriel said. "We knew coming into this game that we needed to take care of the ball, and tonight we didn't take care of the ball very much."