Bryce Brown (above) hit a half dozen threes for the Tigers.
Honolulu, Hawaii--Hawaii rallied in the second half, overcoming a nine-point Auburn lead to take a 79-67 basketball victory on Christmas in the third place game at the eight-team Diamond Head Classic.
The local Rainbow Warriors were the beneficiaries of a series of questionable calls by the officiating crew of Larry Spaulding, Ken Ditty and Rick Batsell that helped them rally for the victory.
The Tigers finished pre-conference play with a 6-5 mark while Hawaii improved to 9-2.
Auburn got 22 points from junior guard Kareem Canty while freshman guard Bryce Brown, who hit 6-12 threes, scored a season-high 20 points.
Roderick Bobbitt, who nailed 6-7 three-pointers, led Hawaii with 30 points while Stefan Jankovic added 21 points and nine rebounds.
The Tigers made 23 field goals, one more than the home team, which hit 25-34 free throws. Auburn was 9-13 at the foul line.
In the second half Hawaii made 19-25 free throws while Auburn hit 6-9.
Pearl did not directly comment on the officiating other than saying, “It was difficult--very, very, very difficult situation. A very difficult situation.”
The Auburn coach said he liked his team’s effort, but said the Tigers needed to do more to win. “We competed, we definitely competed. When you have a nine-point lead in the second half you have got to get stops and we didn’t get stops at some large stretches.
“When Horace Spencer is out there defensively we go on our runs because he cleans up a lot of mistakes we make back there,” Pearl pointed out. “When he fouls at 10 minutes that obviously hurt.”
The Tigers led 60-51 with 9:30 left on a three-pointer by Canty, but lost the lead on a pair of free throws with just over six minutes left and never regained it in a game Tyler Harris and Spencer fouled out in and T.J. Dunans didn’t play in due to an injury suffered in the previous contest vs. Harvard.
Harris finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Tyler Harris hit 6-12 field goals vs. Hawaii.
Hawaii led by as many as eight points early in the game, but a 10-0 run put the Tigers up 18-16 at the 9:21 mark on a layup by Harris.
Auburn led 30-29 at halftime, but Hawaii got a quick start after intermission and jumped out to a 40-33 advantage thanks to an 11-0 run that ended at the 15:26 mark by a Cinmeon Bowers free throw. The senior forward scored six points while adding seven rebounds coming off the bench.
The Tigers responded with a run of their own, moving ahead 44-42 at the 13:18 mark on a three by Brown. Auburn built the lead to 60-51 on a Canty three at the 9:30 mark, but the rest of the game went Hawaii’s way.
Pearl got a technical foul complaining about the officiating, but that didn’t help as the home team continued to benefit from favorable calls all the way until the closing minute when it was apparent Hawaii would win.
Auburn hit 23-55 field goals (41.8 percent) while Hawaii made 22-54 (40.7 percent). The Tigers made 12-29 three-pointers while the home team hit 10-22.
Hawaii out-rebounded Auburn 36-32 and turned the ball over 11 times, five fewer than Auburn.
The coach had praise for Brown’s performance in a starting role. “Bryce played very well,” Pearl said. “He stepped up in a big way with T.J. Dunans being hurt.”
AU’s second-year head coach added, “We did not make it a Merry Christmas for our Auburn fans back home. They want to win and I want to win. I think we represented ourselves pretty well. We competed, we fought.”
Commenting on whether or not his team is ready to begin conference play, Pearl said, “Are we prepared to be able to compete in the SEC? I think our team is.”
Worth Noting: The Rainbow Warriors hit 7-14 three-point shots in the second half.
Stat of the Game: Hawaii outscored Auburn 15-6 in bench points.
Up Next: The Tigers are off until Jan. 2 when they open SEC play with a home game vs. Tennessee.