AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn coach Tony Barbee found much to like about his team's performance against No. 21 Missouri.
Until the end.
Former Auburn player Earnest Ross hit four free throws down the stretch and Jordan Clarkson scored 20 points to lead Missouri to a 70-68 victory at Auburn Arena on Saturday.
It was Auburn's second straight close loss to open Southeastern Conference play.
"I thought defensively we played a great game," said Barbee, whose team was coming off a 65-62 defeat at Mississippi.
"I thought offensively we executed fairly well, shooting almost 54 percent in the second half.
"But when it matters most, in those key moments, your execution has got to be at its highest. And in those key moments, those last three or four possessions, our execution was at its lowest in this game."
Auburn has lost 12 straight against SEC opponents dating back to last season.
Ross, who spent two seasons at Auburn before transferring in 2011, scored 16 points for Missouri (13-2, 1-1 SEC). He made four straight free throws in the final 1:34.
"You heard the boos," Clarkson said. "I think he quieted them down when he hit those free throws. It was a big win for him.
"He was more focused. You could see it in his eyes that he was ready to play on the defensive and offensive end. He finished the game out for us."
The game went down to the final moments.
Unable to get off a tying 3-pointer, Chris Denson missed a layup with 5 seconds left but drew the foul for Auburn (8-5, 0-2). He made one free throw then Torren Jones stepped on the baseline after rebounding the missed second attempt.
Wes Clark batted away Tahj Shamsid-Deen's long inbounds pass and Jabari Brown collected the ball just before time ran out.
Brown added 15 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Ross had seven rebounds and was perfect on eight attempts from the line.
Missouri dominated in rebounds with a 44-28 advantage and bounced back from an overtime loss to Georgia that snapped a nation's-best 26-game home winning streak.
"We got crushed on the backboard," Barbee said. "I thought that was where the game was won and lost, in the trenches."
Shamsid-Deen had 13 points and six assists for Auburn. Denson had 11 points despite a 3-of-10 performance in free throws.
Missouri shot 32.7 percent (17 of 52) from the floor, but also made 31 of 41 free throws. Jones had 11 rebounds.
"I thought we showed great toughness," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "We didn't shoot the ball well but we rebounded well. That's an area we struggled with the other night against Georgia."
Auburn fared much better from the field, hitting 23 of 53 shots (43.4 percent). But Auburn also made barely over half from the line, 14 of 26.
Denson's drive gave Auburn a 67-66 lead with 1:51 left. Missouri reclaimed the lead with two free throws by Ross.
Ross then blocked Harrell's shot on the other end. He was Auburn's leading scorer and rebounder in his final season before leaving, and shook off a steady stream of heckling from students.
"To come out and play my old school on the road, it was a great feeling," Ross said. "I'm glad we got the win."
Auburn walk-on Alex Thompson, who had eight points, drew a charge against Clarkson with just over a minute remaining. But Denson missed his shot and Ross made two free throws with 29 seconds left to set up the final sequence with Auburn needing three points.
Thompson had scored just one point in five appearances this season. He played an increased role with starter Allen Payne limited to two minutes with a hamstring injury.
Before the game, Barbee also announced the indefinite suspension of reserve forward Chris Griffin for violating an undisclosed school policy.
Clarkson had hit three of four free throws after Auburn's Matthew Atewe fouled out and was called for a technical, giving Missouri a 56-51 lead with 8:12 left.
Brown's long 3-pointer with 7 seconds left had given Missouri a 33-30 halftime lead and capped a closing 8-0 run.
It was Missouri's first visit to Auburn and only the teams' second meeting.