University of Kansas

Auburn will face KU after surviving 12th-seeded NM State in NCAA Tournament opener

Red-hot Auburn of the Southeastern Conference will be Kansas’ opponent in Saturday’s second-round NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional contest that will tip off around 8:40 p.m. Central time and air on TBS.

The No. 5 seed Tigers, who have won nine straight games since a 27-point loss to Kentucky on Feb. 23 at Kentucky, held on to defeat No. 12 seed New Mexico State, 78-77, in the first NCAA game Thursday in Salt Lake.

Down two with 6 seconds left, New Mexico State missed a chance to tie or take the lead when AJ Harris passed up a layup to throw the ball to Terrell Brown for a three-point attempt. Brown missed but was fouled. Then he only made one of three free throws.

The Aggies still had a chance to win on their final possession after Auburn’s rebound attempt on the second missed free throw went out of bounds. Trevelin Queen (14 points, four threes) missed a three from the corner that left his hand right before the final horn.

After the game, Harris said he had the open layup, but “I felt like Terrell Brown was going to hit the three.”

“We were down two, so I felt like Terrell Brown was open, he got a great shot off, got fouled,” Harris said. “I was trusting my teammate, my partner.”

Their coach agreed.

“You have to trust your players and players make plays,” Aggies coach Chris Jans said. “If he does make all three free throws or makes the three, it is an Ali Farokhmanesh moment and that will be remembered forever. That’s what happens in the NCAA Tournament.”

Auburn, coached by Bruce Pearl, halted the Aggies’ 19-game winning streak on Thursday.

“No matter how many times you practice your spacing and what you want to do in those situations, until you get in that moment, you don’t know how you’re going to react,” Pearl said. “We obviously panicked and made our share of mistakes which could have cost us the game. At the same time, we made enough really good plays throughout the game against a really good team.

“That’s a really good 5-12 win for Auburn because that New Mexico State team is formidable. I don’t want to do it again, though.”

Jared Harper scored 17 points and J’Von McCormick added 16 for the Tigers (27-9). Johnny McCants led New Mexico State of the Western Athletic Conference with 16 points and seven rebounds.

Chuma Okeke had 13 points Bryce Brown 12 for the victorious Tigers, who hit 45.6 percent of their shots, including 12 of 31 from three.

The winner of the Auburn-Kansas game will advance to the Sweet 16 next week in Kansas City.

Auburn, which won the SEC Tournament after going 11-7 during the regular season, has defeated Tennessee twice in its current winning streak. Auburn ripped the Vols, 84-64, in the final on March 17 in Nashville, and also won, 84-80 on March 9 at Auburn.

Auburn’s tallest starter is 6-foot-8 Okeke. Tallest player is reserve Austin Wiley, who is 6-11. Auburn is 1-0 all-time vs. KU. The Tigers beat the Jayhawks, 66-64, on March 16, 1985 in a second-round NCAA Southeast Regional game in South Bend, Ind. That was Danny Manning’s freshman year at KU.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle