NMSU upset bid falls short against Auburn, 78-77

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A game that garnered a lot of fanfare lived up to the hype at Vivint Smart Home Arena as the 12th-seeded New Mexico State men’s basketball team took fifth-seeded Auburn to the brink Thursday afternoon in a crushing 78-77 loss in the opening-round of the NCAA Tournament.

Thursday’s loss ends yet another historic season for the Aggies under second-year head coach Chris Jans, finishing with a program record 30-5 record. The 19-game winning-streak that was snapped for NM State goes down as the third-longest streak in program history, trailing just the 1937-38 team (21-straight) and the 2016-17 squad (20-straight).
 
“Heck of a college basketball game,” Jans said in his opening statement to the media. That is what March Madness is all about. Really proud of our guys. I think a lot of teams would have packed and went home when it got bleak for a while. We kept trying to whittle it back and we gave ourselves a chance. We gave ourselves a chance, in the end to come from behind and get a win in the tournament. Unfortunately, we didn’t.
 
C.J. Bobbitt pulled up with a jumper to open game for NM State (30-5) followed by a lay-in from Eli Chuha before Auburn answered with a pair of threes.
 
Johnny McCants had the bank open for a three with the shot-clock expiring and followed with a lay-in for the 14-8 lead with 13:29 on the clock before the Tigers answered with a 5-0 run of their own to get within 14-13 of the Aggies.
 
But, with 11:49 remaining in the half, Shunn Buchanan found a streaking McCants on the opposite end of the floor for a monster two-handed jam and the 16-13 lead heading into the under-12 media break.
 
However, Auburn (27-9) answered with a run of their own and went on a 13-0 blitz to lead 28-19 with 4:54 remaining in the first-half despite the Aggies calling a timeout at the 6:22 mark to try and cool off the Tigers.
 
With 3:35 on the timer, Terrell Brown started a 7-2 run for the Aggies to bring the Crimson & White within 30-29 with 34 ticks left before a pair of free-throws for Auburn put New Mexico State behind 32-29 heading into the break.
 
Despite scoring on its first two trips down on offense, four-straight turnovers saw Auburn take a 45-33 edge before Ivan Aurrecoechea ended the bleeding with a nice hook on the far block. Both teams began trading 3-pointers while the deficit for New Mexico State kept going back-and-forth between single-digits and double-digits as the Tigers took advantage of each Aggie miss.
 
Out of the 6:52 media break, four-straight points from Aurrecoechea followed by a huge 3-ball from Queen got the Aggies within 67-61 of Auburn before Jared Harper drained his sixth three of the game for the Tigers.
 
NM State’s deficit grew back up to 73-68 with 2:13 left in the game before a 7-0 by the Aggies capped off by a deep three from Queen cut to 73-72 with 28 seconds remaining. That run was aided by huge charges drawn by Buchanan and Brown. During that stretch Auburn saw both Horace Spencer and Jared Harper foul out as well.
 
A foul from McCants saw Chuma Okeke hit both shots at the line before it got cut back down to 75-73 when Harris hit the front-end of his two free-throws. From there, madness ensued.
 
Subbing in for Buchanan, JoJo Zamora came in with his usual rocket arm and drilled a 3-pointer from the far win and brought NM State within 77-76 with :07 remaining. A foul from Harris on the other end saw Samir Doughty hit 1-of-2 from the stripe but it remained a one-possession game.
 
With :06 remaining, Harris found an open Brown for the three and was fouled with 1.7 on the clock. Brown, who came into the game shooting .780 from the stripe, missed his first, made his second and missed his third which was fortunately tipped out by a Tiger with 1.1 left to play.
 
Despite its chances to put the game away, New Mexico State was given one last-opportunity to pull off the 12-5 upset with Queen getting an open look from the far baseline that was just too strong as the score held 78-77 in favor of the Tigers.
 
The hometown kid, McCants, finished with a team-high 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting with seven boards and two steals. Queen ended the game with 14 points on 4-of-8 from three, six assists and five boards while Aurrecoechea was just shy of a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds. Brown wrapped up the list of double-digit scorers for NM State with 12 points and five assists including an 8-of-11 performance at the charity stripe.
 
QUOTEABLES
I think so. We can have a whole different narrative right now. Make another free throw or two, Trev [Queen] makes that last shot — and he shot the ball extremely well from three tonight. And I think we were prepared this year more than we were last year. We talked about it, part of the tournament we felt last year we had to make some changes in how we played offensively and spread the court a little bit more. It was beneficial to us. I thought it was beneficial to us this afternoon, you know.
 -NM State head coach Chris Jans on being built to advance in the NCAA Tournament
 
I want to congratulate New Mexico State, Coach Chris Jans on an outstanding season. His team plays like he coaches. No fear, they’re well coached. They play together. They’re relentless on the boards. And I told my team that the toughest one for us to win was probably going to be the first one. The next game, the team will play Kansas or Northeastern, are not better than New Mexico State, they’re as good. A great compliment to New Mexico State.
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl on the Aggies
 
BY THE NUMBERS
New Mexico State outrebounded a much bigger Auburn team 39-24, but lost the second-chance battle 9-8 despite grabbing 11 offensive boards to Auburns six…in addition to being a much smaller team than the Tigers, NM State was able to outscore them in the paint 36-28…the Aggies shot 49-percent to the Tigers’ 45.6-percent, but was just 7-of-25 from deep compared to the 12-of-31 from three by Auburn…the Aggies weren’t afraid of Auburn’s speed, beating them in fastbreak points 17-5…the loss now moves NM State to 7-24 all-time in the Big Dance (not counting vacated games between 1991-94)…the 78-77 loss is the third loss in 11 years where the margin of defeat was in the single-digits to a much higher seed.

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