SALT LAKE CITY - Just as he did in the SEC Tournament championship game, J'Von McCormick sparked Auburn off the bench, scoring 16 points as the Tigers advanced in the NCAA Tournament Thursday, beating New Mexico State 78-77.
McCormick's baseline drive for an old-fashioned 3-point play put Auburn up 73-65 with 2:13 remaining.
After Jared Harper, Auburn's leading scorer with 17 points, fouled out with 15 seconds remaining, McCormick hit a pair of three throws to put the Tigers up 77-73 with 12.2 seconds left.
"I was ready for it," said McCormick who made 6 of 8 shots was 3-for-3 from the free-throw line. "I just had to be mentally prepared and take the shots."
New Mexico State, a 30-win team with a 19-game winning streak, did not go down quietly.
The Aggies hit a 3-pointer, then after a Samir Doughty free throw with 6 seconds left made it 78-76, Auburn fouled Terrell Brown's 3-point attempt with 1.7 seconds remaining.
Brown hit only one of three, but the Aggies got one more chance with 1.1 seconds left when the ball went out of bounds off Auburn. New Mexico State missed at the buzzer and Auburn escaped with a one-point win.
"It was not pretty," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. "Still, we had made enough plays to put ourselves in position to survive and advance."
Relying on the same formula that led Auburn to the SEC Tournament championship - valuing possessions, creating offense from defense and of course, 3-point shooting, the Tigers constructed a 13-point lead with 7:52 to play on Bryce Brown's 3 pointer.
The Tigers committed only 10 turnovers while forcing 16.
Harper scored 14 points in the second half, including four 3-pointers, as the Tigers made 9 of 19 3s after intermission and 12 of 31 for the game.
"Just glad to come out with a win," Harper said. "We moved the ball well, we were playing well defensively at the time."
Malik Dunbar and Bryce Brown hit 3-pointers early in the second half to help Auburn expand a 3-point halftime lead.
Brown's steal at half-court and layup capped a 10-0 Auburn run, putting the Tigers up 45-33.
Chuma Okeke scored 13 points and led Auburn with five rebounds. Brown added 12 points.
Auburn used a 13-0 run to lead 32-29 at the half. The Tigers held the Aggies scoreless for 6:43 to build a nine-point lead with 5:33 to play on Okeke's 3-pointer.
Just as he did in the SEC Tournament championship game, McCormick sparked Auburn off the bench with six first-half points after Jared Harper picked up his second foul.
The Tigers were 7-for-7 from the free-throw line in the half and committed only four turnovers, helping Auburn overcome New Mexico State's 20-14 rebounding edge.
Auburn will take a nine-game win streak into Saturday's second-round matchup against No. 4 seed Kansas.
"We got that one behind us," Pearl said. "We were exhausted. Five games in eight days. That's a lot. I think it showed. Get that early game out of the way, and a full day's rest tomorrow. I can tell you right now. They will not be on their feet much before Saturday."