Auburn looked like it was on its way to a comfortable victory against No. 12 seed New Mexico State midway through the second half in its opening round matchup of the NCAA tournament on Thursday. Then things got weird. They always do in a 5-12 game.
The Tigers led by seven with under a minute left when NMSU’s A.J. Harris hit a layup to slash to the deficit to five. This is what happened next:
- The Aggies trapped the inbounds pass, with Auburn point guard Jared Harper catching the ball in the corner and falling down. Turnover Tigers, New Mexico State ball.
- NMSU was fouled and split the free throws. They trapped the inbounder again and forced another turnover. That’s when junior guard Trevelin Queen hit a deeeeeep three to cut the Auburn lead to just one with 29 seconds left.
- New Mexico State tried to force a turnover rather than immediately foul. It didn’t work and the clocked ticked down to 15 seconds before finally fouled Auburn’s Chuma Okeke, who made both free throws. Auburn now leads by three with 15 seconds left.
- For some reason, Auburn’s Jared Harper immediately fouls New Mexico State. Harper, Auburn’s best player and best free throw shooter, fouls out. Harris goes to the line for NMSU and makes the first free throw but misses the second. Somehow, he grabs his own rebound, but there’s a foul on teammate Shunn Buchanan.
- Auburn goes to the line and makes two free throws. Tigers lead 77-73 with 12 seconds left. This game is over, right?
- Not quite. New Mexico State answers four seconds later with a deep three by JoJo Zamora. One point game again.
- The Aggies foul and Samir Doughty misses the first freebie for Auburn but makes the second. Two-point Auburn lead, New Mexico State has to go the full length of the floor.
- Now things get really weird: Aggies point guard A.J. Harris beats the Auburn defense down court and appears to have a wide open layup, but instead kicks it out to teammate Terrell Brown for a three. Brown misses, but Auburn fouls him.
Could Harris have put the ball in to tie the game? Or would he have been swatted from behind?
Remember, Harris is generously listed at 5’9 It looks like he might have been swatted:
To recap: New Mexico State passed up a wide open layup to tie the game, but it might have been the right decision because now they’re shooting three free throws for the win.
Only one problem: Brown missed the first shot. No worries, two left to tie. He makes the second free throw, but then misses the third. Of course, NMSU grabs the offensive rebound, setting up one last play.
All NMSU got on this look was a WIDE OPEN CORNER THREE FOR THE WIN:
Sadly, it was an air ball. Auburn survives.
You can’t say a 5-12 game is ever boring. March Madness will give us better games, but it may not provide a dumber final minute.