BIRMINGHAM — Things were going great for No. 9-seeded Auburn basketball early on.
The Tigers, who haven’t won back-to-back games since January, found themselves up 10 points at halftime over No. 1 seeded Houston in the second round of March Madness at Legacy Arena on Saturday night.
But the second half was much less lenient for Auburn (21-13) – especially the rims. The Tigers missed 20 of 24 shots in the final period and didn’t hit a single 3-pointer on their way to an 81-64 loss. Auburn’s starters scored a combined 18 points on 25 percent shooting in the second half.
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Houston (33-3) took a six-point lead in the first half, but a switch flipped for Auburn midway through the opening period. Tre Donaldson sank some 3-pointers to put the Tigers ahead. After briefly trailing again, Auburn closed out the first 20 minutes on a 17-4 run to enter the 10-point break.
Then came the swing the Tigers feared. Houston opened the second half on a 15-4 run to take the lead. This advantage only grew as the game wore on and Auburn continued to miss shot after shot.
Free throw problems
Free throws are always important, but their value increases exponentially in the playoffs. Against the Cougars, the Tigers left far too many runs on the foul line.
Auburn entered the game shooting 70.5% from the charity strip. The Tigers only hit 19 of 36 they attempted against Houston. Johni Broome managed to work his way to the line 16 times, but only made six of those shots.
The 52.8% mark from the free throw line is almost a season low. The Tigers’ only worst showing was 50% against Vanderbilt on Feb. 18, but they had just 10 attempts in their loss to the Commodores.
On the game’s opening possession, Houston grabbed three offensive rebounds and eventually hit a 3-pointer to score the first points of the contest. The Cougars finished with a 45-34 advantage on the glass and a 17-13 lead on the offensive end.
Houston used their rebounding prowess to propel themselves into the early run they had in the second half. The Cougars had eight rebounds in the final period before Auburn could grab one.
Richard Silva is the author of Auburn Athletic Beats for the Montgomery Advertiser. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @rich_silva18.