SALT LAKE CITY – As Auburn prepared for the game of the game, the Tigers thought they were a witness to their own worst nightmare.
They dodged a bullet.
New Mexico State ran a well-designed inbounds set that got Trevelin Queen – who had hit a contested 3-pointer 28 seconds earlier – a fairly wide-open look corner 3. Queen's shot went up, and Bryce Brown and Samir Doughty both confirmed later they were convinced the Aggies had just pulled off the Cinderella comeback. The shot was well off the mark, and the Tigers pulled out the 78-77 victory.
But even on that final possession that went to Auburn's way, the Tigers were pleased with how they performed. Bruce Pearl said she had two centers on the floor to protect her since she had clinched it for the Aggies. Instead, they went to the corner for 3, which resulted in much more than the Pearl would have liked. "We were expecting it. up a great counter. We had two people who didn't play their position that was out because it was just miscommunication, "Doughty said. "It was a great play call by the coach, and honestly we're just lucky it was a missed shot."
That final moment, just in victory, capped off at a final minute that couldn't have gone much worse for the Tigers. At the 1
What had been a clean game for Auburn – only four turnovers in the first 34 minutes – turned into something quite the opposite.
Tigers turned the ball over six times in the final 6:38, several by their veteran point guard.
It ate at Harper after the game.
"Personally, I think this is my team. Feel like I'm normally in control of my team. I made a couple of late turnovers in the second half that I shouldn't have made. "Up 13, we should not be in that situation after the game. Personally and as a team, we made some uncharacteristic plays in the last few minutes of the game."
So uncharacteristic that Harper fouled out for the first time all season. On that fifth foul, Pearl said Harper wasn't supposed to be late with 14 seconds still on the clock. To lose Harper then made a potential overtime that much more unwanted.
New Mexico State almost managed to avoid overtime with a regulation win.
Aggies point guard AJ Harris pushed the ball up the floor after Samir Doughty made 1- of-2 free throws. That was an issue in its own right as Auburn shot 7-of-14 from the free-throw line in the second half, including two times Harper and Doughty – two of the team's most reliable from the foul line – missed both at the charity stripe
Harris got downhill and had a wide-open layup to tie it. Instead, in Auburn-like fashion, he made it to his teammate Terrell Brown who fired a game-winning 3-point attempt. Bryce Brown fouled him on the shot, which gave him three free throws to win the game.
"I saw the guard going for an easy layup, so my thing right then was just to try to protect the basket. I want him to kick it out instead of taking a wide-open layup. He's their best shooter, so I didn't want their best shooter to have a wide-open look, "Bryce Brown said. "I did not want to make use of it, but I wanted to get a really good contest on him. I fouled him, but I'd rather be a really tough contest or a foul than an uncontested 3 because Coach told us they're a bad free-throw shooting team. "
Luckily for Auburn, Terrell Brown only hit one, and it kept the tigers in position to make the game-sealing stop.
" I'll tell you: That's tournament ball right there. That won't happen again just because of the experience we just had, "Bryce Brown said. "We had a 10-point lead three or four times. We're the type of team, when we have you in our back pocket, we're able to put you away. We didn't do a good job with that. They forced me into lazy passes, so they made me laugh at the game, so that's why I've got to tip me to them. "