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About Last Night: Auburn 78, New Mexico State 77

Y’all disappointed? Don’t be.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Auburn vs New Mexico State Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we’ve all caught our breath from yesterday’s near-upchucking of what should have been a fairly convincing win, we can relax a bit. Auburn will have over two days to get some rest and get more used to the elevated air in Salt Lake City before tipoff tomorrow night against the Kansas Jayhawks.

Yesterday’s final — 78-77 — was way closer than it should’ve been. At times Auburn led by as many as 13 points, but crumbled down the stretch. We had to rely on missed free throws and a missed last-second three to advance over New Mexico State, and the attitude after the game was something akin to a funeral.

That’s where Bruce Pearl’s motivation tactics come in.

Look at how disappointed the guys are — with a win! We won! They know they should’ve handled business much better than that, but we survived and advanced. That’s the name of the game in the NCAA Tournament. It’s like the electoral college. Win as many games as you can, however you can. Blowouts don’t give you any more credence than a one-point win. Auburn and Kansas (who won by 34 over Northeastern) are both in the Round of 32, and tomorrow night’s game will start 0-0. The Jayhawks don’t get any special treatment for their big win, while we don’t get penalized for only winning by a point.

It really was the perfect storm for NMSU to come back and make it a game in the end. Auburn should’ve cruised, but everything went wrong.

We did a ton of things that don’t typically happen with this team. How many free throws did we miss yesterday? How many wide-ass-open layups didn’t fall? Those are the things that can either be attributed to 1) playing five games in eight days or 2) first-round jitters.

Whatever happened, Auburn fans around the country are waking up this morning on the brink of infarctions.

Take a hot shower, eat a good breakfast, and let’s look at some of the positives.

J’Von McCormick was MVP of yesterday’s game. Not only did he have to step in for the second game in a row to run the point after Jared Harper got into foul trouble, but he posted a career-high 16 points on 6-8 shooting. He also buried two late free throws (as a 58% shooter) that provided the final margin in favor of the Tigers. He’s not the same mistake-prone kid he was back in December, he’s a bonafide player that Bruce Pearl can depend on.

Also, remember what happened last year against College of Charleston? We shot 35% from the floor, went 5-24 from three, and hit 15-32 free throws in a 62-58 win. There was no feeling good heading into the game against Clemson two days later. Yesterday, despite the close win, Auburn played pretty well for about 38 minutes.

The Tigers hit 46% of their shots, hit twelve threes, and forced NMSU to turn the ball over fifteen times. We actually found our shots a little bit, and at times the offense was positively humming. The defense played really well also at times, but NMSU was such a weird team with the number of guys that they played and the substitutions, that it was hard to find the lineup that worked.

For tomorrow, Kansas is going to play a bit more of a standard lineup with standard substitutions. They usually get 9-10 guys on the floor, but only one or two of their subs play more than a couple minutes. They may still have one of the most talented starting lineups that we’ll see, however. Dedric Lawson, Devon Dotson, and Quentin Grimes are all outstanding, but the Jayhawks don’t have some of the guys that made them hum like in years past. Lagerald Vick is no longer a part of the team, and they lost Udoka Azibuike earlier in the season to injury. Consider this, even after yesterday’s near-collapse, Auburn is a slight favorite in many betting parlors around the country.

The name of the game is always survive and advance. Auburn survived and has a chance to pad the resume for this Tiger team to be the best ever. Right now, with a second-straight SEC Championship and 27 wins (second-most ever at Auburn), this team is firmly in second place behind the 1998-99 team for best Auburn basketball team ever in my mind. Should the Tigers win tomorrow night and advance to the Sweet Sixteen, then the likely matchup with top seed North Carolina next week may be for the title of greatest Auburn squad in history.

Guys, we made the NCAA Tournament and won a game. This has happened only a handful of times in recent memory. Enjoy it. We get to play the bluest of the blue bloods tomorrow, and we have a fantastic chance to knock them off. War Eagle.