Second-half barrage by 1-seed Houston buries Auburn
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Auburn played a brilliant first half while taking a 10-point lead against the Midwest Region's No. 1 seed but went cold in the second half, falling to Houston 81-64 Saturday in the NCAA Tournament round of 32 at Legacy Arena.
"We got great looks in the first half, ran whatever we wanted and played great basketball," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. "We were dominated in the second half on both ends of the floor. They made it really difficult for us to run our offense. Give credit to the way they guarded and their physicality. We had the No. 1 seed in this region on their heels."
Houston made 18 of 18 free throws in the second half while ninth-seeded Auburn struggled from the free-throw line, missing 11 attempts in the second half and 17 in the game. Auburn was 4-for-24 from the field in the second half, including 0-for-5 on 3-pointers.
Leading 41-31 at the half, Auburn came out cold in the second half, going more than 10 minutes between field goals while Houston outscored the Tigers 25-10 to take a five-point lead.
"They lined us up and drove it and were able to knock down midrange shots," Allen Flanigan said of Houston's 50-point second half.
K.D. Johnson made a steal and passed ahead to Wendell Green Jr. for a transition layup that pulled the Tigers within one point with 7:25 to play but Houston outscored Auburn 25-9 the rest of the way.
Johni Broome and Jaylin Williams each scored 14 points. Broome drew 10 fouls but was 6 of 16 from the free-throw line.
"This team is not here without Johni Broome." Pearl said. "Adding him made all the difference in our ability to continue to make history."
Allen Flanigan scored 10 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
"We wanted to put it all out there on the court, play to win and keep the season going," Flanigan said.
Auburn scored in streaks in the first half, using two 5-0 runs, two 6-0 runs and a 10-0 run to take a 10-point halftime lead, shooting 55.2 percent against a team that limits opponents to 36.1 percent shooting, the nation's best field goal percentage defense.
Trailing 27-24, Auburn scored 10 unanswered points to take a 34-27 lead. Williams started the run with a 3-pointer, Green hit a deep 3 from the top of the key, Broome made a pair of free throws and Williams scored in the lane.
The Tigers scored 41 points in the first half against the NCAA's No. 2 scoring defense (56.3) but managed only 23 points in the second half while shooting 16.7 percent from the field and 57.7 percent from the free-throw line.
Tre Donaldson hit both of his 3-point attempts in the first half, going 5-for-5 on 3s in his first two NCAA Tournament games.
Tramon Mark led Houston with 26 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
Auburn concludes the season with a 21-13 record, the Tigers' fifth 20-win season under Pearl in the past six years.
"We made history," said Zep Jasper, reflecting on his two seasons at Auburn upon the conclusion of his college career. "I appreciate Auburn so much."
"We're interested in making history," Pearl said. "This team had a good year, made the NCAA Tournament, advanced in the NCAA Tournament, and gave the No. 1 seed a pretty good run for 20 minutes. This team has been resilient. I'm proud of this team."