Auburn missed free throws and three-pointers galore, but forced enough turnovers and played solid enough defense to win its first NCAA Tournament game since 2003, beating Charleston 62-58 in the first round earlier tonight.
The Tigers ground out the victory after a very slow start that had the game tied 25-25 at halftime, with Auburn failing to hit a three-pointer in the first half for the first time in 137 games. The most reliable facets of Auburn’s game failed for the Tigers tonight, as they hit just 15-32 free throws, and 5-24 threes, but still found a way to beat the Cougars to advance to play 5-seed Clemson Sunday night.
The Cougars jumped out to a 6-2 lead, as Auburn started 0-8 from the floor, but the Tigers finally burned the net on Mustapha Heron’s jumper more than five minutes into the game. Desean Murray’s dunk two minutes later gave Auburn an 8-6 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish until late in the game. Leading 25-18 in the final couple of minutes of the first half, Auburn allowed Grant Riller to hit two jumpers and we hit the intermission knotted up at 25.
In the second half, Auburn made runs, but Charleston answered every time. The Tigers opened the half with their first three as Bryce Brown got into the action, and later held a 48-41 advantage thanks to Heron’s layup with about nine minutes to play.
Charleston fought back and took the lead on Jarrell Brantley’s three with six minutes left to give the Cougars a 50-48 margin, and we went back and forth until threes from Bryce Brown and Jared Harper late gave the Tigers a lead that they’d be able to protect at the foul line, clinching their first NCAA Tournament win in fifteen years by a score of 62-58.
Auburn didn’t shoot well from the floor, hitting just 32% of its shots, and hitting less than half of its free throws. Mustapha Heron led the scoring effort with 16 points, while Desean Murray had 11, and Bryce Brown notched 10. Jarrell Brantley ended up with 24 for Charleston.
Auburn will take on the 5-seed Clemson on Sunday night, after the purple Tigers beat New Mexico State tonight. Tipoff for that matchup is set for 6:10 pm CST from San Diego.