Bruce Pearl said it.
"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," Pearl said in his postgame interview.
Auburn was good for most of the day, but in the final seconds, the Tigers were lucky.
New Mexico State missed a would-be game-winning jumper at the buzzer after cutting the Tigers' second-half lead down from double digits as 5-seed Auburn survived, 78-77 against the 12-seed Aggies in Salt Lake City on Thursday in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament.
After Auburn was up seven with 56 seconds left, New Mexico State came within one with under 30 seconds left after a trio of Auburn turnovers in the final minute-and-a-half and a clutch triple from Trevelin Queen.
Four free throws after a fouling spree for Auburn appeared to put the game away until the Aggies' JoJo Zamara hit his second shot of the game — a triple with seven seconds left to cut the lead to one again.
Samir Doughty preceded to make just one of two at the line, and NMSU's Terrell Brown was then fouled by Bryce Brown beyond the 3-point line.
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Terrell Brown made just one of three, but the ball went out of bounds off Auburn. New Mexico State had the final shot with 1.1 seconds left, but a 3-pointer from Queen fell short.
“It was not pretty,” Pearl said. “Still, we had made enough plays to put ourselves in position to survive and advance.
"(New Mexico State) plays like nobody else. They're athletic, they crash the glass and they shoot the 3-ball."
As was customary during its SEC Tournament championship run in Nashville, Auburn was out-played in most facets in the first half while its All-SEC backcourt duo struggled.
Jared Harper was sent to the bench with two fouls in the opening minutes for the second straight game, Bryce Brown shot 1-for-7 from the floor, Auburn as a team shot just 3-of-12 from 3-point range, was out-rebounded 20-14 and the Tigers went the final 5:33 of the half without a made field goal. Not optimal for Pearl.
Yet, the Tigers led by three at the break, primarily due to their defense.
Auburn forced eight turnovers in the opening 20 minutes and forced New Mexico State into 12 straight misses amid a 13-0 run midway through the half. And while its usual 3-point antics weren’t working, Auburn worked the rock inside with backup point guard J’Von McCormick at the helm, scoring 16 points in the paint in the first half.
And as was also customary in Nashville, the Tigers’ jumpshots heated up after halftime.
Chuma Okeke (13 points) and company began sinking 3-pointers out of the gates in the second half, beginning on a 10-0 run to push their lead to 12.
Auburn’s point guard duo balanced out, as well. McCormick’s strong first half translated to later in the afternoon, and Harper’s offensive output rose to match his point guard running mate.
Harper and McCormick combined for 33 points including McCormick's season-high 16 points. Bryce Brown worked his way into double digits, also, dropping 12 on the afternoon.
“I was ready for it,” McCormick said. “I just had to be mentally prepared and take the shots.”
Auburn earned extra possessions with 16 forced turnovers including nine steals. Dating back to its first win in last week’s SEC Tournament, Auburn’s turnover margin in its last five wins is plus-40.
With a Harper triple with four minutes left, which snapped a 7-0 NMSU run that brought the Aggies within six points, Auburn set its NCAA Tournament record for made triples in a game. The Tigers shot 12-for-31 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“Just glad to come out with a win,” Harper said. “We moved the ball well, we were playing well defensively at the time.”
Auburn now advances to the Round of 32, awaiting the winner of 4-seed Kansas vs. 13-seed Northeastern later Thursday.
“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.”
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