It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t always smart, but fifth-seeded Auburn got the job done somehow.
New Mexico State’s Terrell Brown was fouled shooting a three with 1.7 seconds left and Auburn ahead 78-76, but he missed two of the three free throws:
Trevelin Queen had a wide-open look at a three at the buzzer, but he threw up an air-ball and the Tigers escaped, 78-77, in a game they did not seem all that interested in winning.
Survive and advance. That’s all that matters in the end.
It’s the second straight season that Auburn has reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Last year, Auburn survived Charleston as a No. 4 seed before they were embarrassed by Clemson, 84-53, in the second. They will take on the winner of No. 4-seed Kansas and No. 13-seed Northeastern on Saturday.
The Tigers led by 13 points with 7:10 left on the clock, but they committed six turnovers in the final five minutes, allowing New Mexico State to make a run.
Prior to that meltdown, this looked like a vintage Auburn performance. They forced 16 turnovers, they made 12 threes, they make running offense a nightmare for an overmatched NMSU roster. In total, Auburn got 17 points and four assists from Jared Harper and J’Von McCormicik came off the bench to pour in 16 points.
When this team is at their best, that is what they do. They lead the nation in defensive turnover percentage and steal percentage. They are fifth nationally in block percentage. They don’t go to the offensive glass because they are less concerned with giving up offensive rebounds than they are with being able to get out in transition.
That worked beautifully for 33 minutes.
And thanks to a couple of missed free throws, Auburn will get a chance to see if it can work again on Saturday.