Nashville, Tenn.--Auburn’s improbable postseason run continued on Friday as the Tigers rallied late and defeated LSU 73-70 in overtime to advance to the semi-finals of the SEC Basketball Tournament at noon on Saturday.
Another outstanding performance by senior guard K.T. Harrell sparked the upset. The senior guard’s three-pointer from well beyond the top of the circle beat the buzzer and sent the contest into overtime.
Auburn took control early in the extra period and picked up its third straight win at Bridgestone Arena after closing the regular season with six straight losses.
Commenting on the shot that sent the game into overtime, Harrell said, “Coach drew up the play to get me the shot and Cim (Cinmeon Bowers) gave me a great screen to get me open. I got a good look and knocked it down.”
Harrell scored 29 points, hitting 5-11 field goals, 4-7 threes and 15-18 free throws.
“It is an amazing feeling,” the senior said of his team’s run to the semi-finals of the tournament. “I am so proud of everybody with how we fought. We did a great job of playing together.”
K.T. Harrell is hugged by Cinmeon Bowers.
The Tigers pulled off the upset despite playing a small lineup much of the second half after forward Jordon Granger got into a scuffle with Jordan Mickey. Both players got fouls, but Granger’s led to an ejection and will keep him from playing on Saturday.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said what happened on Friday was another example of a team that has refused to “lay down” despite being an out-manned underdog throughout the season.
Pearl repeated his comments from earlier in the season that his Tigers could beat any team in the SEC other than Kentucky, the No. 1 ranked, unbeaten team in the country.
The noted that Kentucky’s combination of size, depth and athletic ability will make it tough for Harrell to score a lot of points. “They are going to do what they can to keep the ball out of his hands and make somebody else beat them,” Pearl said. “We will figure out who that somebody else could be.”
Pearl added his team isn’t throwing in the towel despite the overwhelming odds. “We are going compete, but it is going to be tough,” he said of beating the Wildcats, who defeated Florida 64-49 on Friday.
Malcolm Canada scored 14 points for the Tigers and was a standout on defense, doubling down on LSU’s big post players to keep them from dominating Auburn’s undersized front line.
“Defense was a big reason we won this game,” the senior guard/power forward said. “We did a good job of competing and following our game plan.”
Antoine Mason scored nine points for the Tigers, Granger added eight points while Bowers added seven points to go with his team-high 10 rebounds.
Jarrell Martin led LSU with 18 points and 16 rebounds while Keith Hornsby helped the Bayou Bengals lead most of the way with his shooting that led to 24 points.
Auburn didn’t take its first lead until the 3:45 mark of overtime when Harrell hit two free throws. He added two more at the 3:22 mark putting the Tigers up 68-64 and then the Tigers took their largest lead on a dunk by Mason to go up 72-65 after a steal by K.C. Ross-Miller.
LSU cut Auburn’s lead to 72-70 with 40 seconds left. Ross-Miller hit 1-2 free throws with 20 seconds on the clock. It looked like the game was wrapped up with four seconds left when Harrell got a steal and was fouled, but he missed both fouls shots. However, LSU’s desperation shot was late and way off target leaving the No. 13 seed on top 73-70.
“I have to commend Auburn on a really gutsy effort and what they have done over the last three days making plays and surviving in this tournament,” said LSU coach Johnny Jones. “I thought they did an excellent job.”
Halftime Numbers: Auburn shot 9-30 (30.0 percent) from the field while hitting 1-7 threes and 5-7 free throws. LSU hit 8-23 field goals (34.8 percent), 3-7 threes and 9-18 free throws. LSU led in rebounds 22-20 and turned the ball over eight times, two more than Auburn.Canada led Auburn in scoring in the half with eight while Hornsby scored 17 for LSU.
In the second half Auburn hit 10-20 field goals, including 6-9 threes, to ignite the comeback. For the game Auburn shot 37.5 percent to 35.8 for LSU,which hit 7-17 threes. Auburn was 24-36 at the foul line while LSU hit 25-44, something Jones noted was costly to his team down the stretch.
Auburn helped its cause by forcing 18 turnovers and committing just 12, helping negate LSU’s 46-39 edge in rebounds and eight blocked shots by the Bayou Bengals.
Auburn improved its record to 15-19 while LSU, which is expected to head to the NCAA Tournament, dropped to 22-10 with two of the losses to Auburn.
Asked how the Tigers were able to hang with the much taller LSU team, Mason said, “We knew we were smaller than them, but we all talked to each other that everybody had to be responsible for their job on the court and do whatever we could to get the ball. Once we had the ball we knew could take advantage of our guards against their bigs and it worked out in our favor.”Worth Noting: Auburn outscored LSU 26-18 for points in the paint and the AU bench outscored LSU’s bench 23-5.
Worth Noting, Part 2: LSU led the game for almost 39 minutes.