March 21, 2019 - Salt Lake City, Utah
NCAA Tournament 1st Round
The 4 days in Nashville were just a part of the incredible journey through March 2019 for Auburn Basketball. It was a huge accomplishment to see the Tigers win the SEC Tournament and win a league title in back to back seasons. But now it was time for business to pick up.
So congratulations Auburn, you just won the SEC Tournament by winning 4 games in 4 days, what are you going to do with that NCAA Committee?
NCAA: Here you go Auburn, let’s send you out west (again) and you get the 11:30AM local time slot on Thursday for your efforts.
Auburn didn’t have much time to celebrate their SEC Tournament Championship as about 36 hours after returning to Auburn from Nashville, they were Salt Lake City bound to get ready for the WAC Champion New Mexico State, who had dominated their conference for the umpteenth straight year on their way back to the NCAA Tournament.
Auburn was a popular 5-12 upset pick as the Aggies were a very talented group who had gone 30-4 on their way to the WAC Regular Season and Tournament Championship. They faced Kansas and lost by only 3 points to them and the Aggies also had had the depth to match Auburn.
In typical Auburn fashion, it was a 3-pointer from Anfernee McLemore that got the Tigers on the scoreboard after giving up the first 4 points of the game. A 3 from Chuma Okeke 2 possessions later would give the Tigers their first lead of the morning. The Aggies would quickly regain the lead and hold it most of the first 10 minutes of the half.
With Jared Harper dealing with foul trouble, insert J’Von McCormick who picked a great time to put in his best performance of the season. The growth of J’Von from the beginning of the year to the end of the season was one of the biggest surprises on a team full of surprises.
McCormick keyed a 13-0 run knocking down 3 buckets in the paint and a basket from Danjel Purifoy and 3 from Okeke gave Auburn a 28-19 lead with 5:33 left in the half. The Aggies would crawl back into it in the final 5 minutes as the Tigers didn’t make another basket after Okeke’s 3 in the first half. Despite that, they led 32-29 at halftime.
Auburn jumped out of the gate in the second with 3s from Malik Dunbar and Bryce Brown, his first 3 of the game to make it 38-33 Auburn. Brown’s 3 started a 10-0 run which featured a transition layup from Jared Harper, a 3-point play from Chuma Okeke and Brown’s steal and layup gave the Tigers their largest lead of the game to that point, 45-33.
The Aggies continued to battle but 3s from Samir Doughty and Harper would thwart those runs. McCormick kept his hot shooting going as he scored 5 in a row, including a 3-pointer to make it 56-48 Auburn with 10 minutes to go.
Jared Harper would then knock down 2 consecutive 3-pointers as it looked like Auburn was poised to pull away and finish this game off. Auburn would lead by 13 with 7 minutes to go, 67-54. A 7-0 from New Mexico State pulled them within 6 before Harper made his 4th 3 of the half with 4:30 to go.
McCormick would convert a 3-point play with 2:15 to go to put Auburn ahead 73-65.
J’Von’s bucket was massive but let’s face it, Auburn was playing with fire and things got very dicey late with turnovers, and foul trouble.
Suddenly with 30 seconds left, a 3-pointer from the Aggies made it 73-72. Okeke would hit 2 free throws but Jared Harper would foul in the backcourt, his 5th of the game ending his day. New Mexico State made 1-2 and sent McCormick to the line, a 62% shooter for the season. J’Von made both and Auburn led by 4 with 12 seconds left. But another 3 cut it 1 with 7 seconds to go. Samir Doughty was fouled and he went to the line. Doughty missed the first but made the second to make it 78-76.
With a chance to tie or win it, the Aggies went for the win and got fouled...... behind the 3-point line. New Mexico State had 3 free throws to win this game. The first FT was no good meaning at worst this game was tied. The second one was made but the 3rd one to it rimmed out but..... the ball went of bounds with a second left and New Mexico State got one more shot.
The inbounds play worked as they got an open look from the corner which was mercifully air-balled and Auburn SURVIVED AND ADVANCED by the skin of their teeth.
It was a major sigh of relief for everyone including Sir Charles.
Charles Barkley after Auburn's foul vs. Charles Barkley after Auburn won pic.twitter.com/FUSORdRmUk— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 21, 2019
Auburn has only lost once in the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament and this was the 9th straight time Auburn had advanced when making the Big Dance.
Jared Harper had 14 of his team high 17 points in the 2nd half.
But the story of this game was the play of J’Von McCormick as he had a season high 16 points off the bench, going 6-8 from the field and making all 3 of his free throws.
Chuma Okeke had 13 points and 5 rebounds and Bryce Brown had 12 points and 5 assists.
And despite the win, the team seemed to be disappointed with how they finished the game. They would use that disappointment to their benefit as they continued on through the NCAA Tournament.
Here are the highlights!
Auburn would get a Saturday night date with the Kansas Jayhawks in the Round of 32 and well.... you’ll have to come back tomorrow to re-live that game.