Auburn pushed the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils to the brink, and came up just short in a 78-72 loss in the Maui Invitational semifinals.
The story of the first half was Auburn’s inability to get to the foul line and the cold start from the floor, while Duke did just the opposite. R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish paced the Blue Devil offense to start, with the pair scoring the first 10 points of the game as Duke built a 10-4 edge at the first timeout. Auburn fell behind 22-8 at the next break, and trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half when Zion Williamson’s first basket fell with 6:44 left in the opening half.
However, the Tigers fought back. Trailing 35-20, threes from Bryce Brown and Jared Harper cut the margin to single digits, then another three by Brown at the end of the shot clock brought Auburn within 6 points at 37-31. The half finished with Duke ahead 41-33, with the Blue Devils making 13-18 foul shots, and Auburn attempting zero free throws. Foul trouble also threatened to become an issue, as Chuma Okeke, Samir Doughty, and Malik Dunbar all earned three fouls in the first twenty minutes.
Duke charged out of the locker room and doubled the lead in a hurry, but Auburn battled back. The Tigers finally went to the foul line and hit four straight free throws before an Austin Wiley alley-oop got the Auburn crowd excited. A Jared Harper three just before the under-eight timeout cut the lead to just five points at 61-56, but Cam Reddish answered with a long three before the break. Duke kept making its way to the foul line, and answered every shot that Auburn made with free throws. Auburn’s time at the rim was made tough by Marques Bolden, who blocked seven shots and protected the paint very well, and the Tigers trailed by 10 points at the final break of the game.
Jared Harper’s three cut it to a 73-66 margin with 2:35 to play, but Auburn couldn’t cut it any closer than that in the final moments as the fouls began to come to extend the game. He did hit another three in the closing seconds to make it more respectable, but Duke still won 78-72.
Harper finished with 22 points including 6-10 shooting from deep, while Austin Wiley had his best game with 17 points and 9 rebounds. Bryce Brown added 16 points, while Anfernee McLemore grabbed 12 rebounds. R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish each scored 18 to lead Duke, while Bolden finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 blocks.
Auburn will play the winner of the Arizona/Gonzaga game tomorrow night after the Maui Invitational Championship game.