NCAA tournament at Viejas: No. 4 Auburn survives No. 13 Charleston, 62-58


Photo by Kelly Smiley

Desean Murray finishes off a dunk during Auburn’s 62-58 victory over Charleston on March 16 at Viejas Arena.

by Abraham Jewett, Sports Editor

Sophomore guard Jared Harper was having a rough night for the University of Auburn.

The Tigers third-leading scorer coming into the game was 0-6, had one point, and was stuck in basketball physicality purgatory with four fouls.

The game was tied at 56 with under a minute and a half left to play.

So Harper did what anyone in his position would do: Nail a deep three point jumper with 1:17 left on the clock and add a free throw on the next possession to extend the Tigers lead to 60-56.

“He’s almost conditioned by nature to look for his shot,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “I believe he was going right to pull and he was open. And I want those guys to be able to have the freedom to take and make those shots.”

No. 4 Auburn (26-7) then had a chance to seal the game with freshman guard Davion Mitchell at the free throw line with 14 seconds left, and the Tigers leading 61-58.

Shot one: Clunk. Shot two: Clank.

The door was left wide open for No. 13 Charleston (26-8) to tie the game, but a deep and contested three-pointer by sophomore guard Grant Riller – who played all 40 minutes – fell well short.

“(Junior guard Bryce Brown) challenged the shot,” Pearl said. “I haven’t seen it on film, but (Brown), a pretty good defender, I thought he was pretty vertical.”

Auburn would add a free-throw to complete a 62-58 victory at Viejas Arena on March 16, and the Tigers are now headed to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The final six minutes of the game featured six lead changes, with neither team up by more than 2 points until Harper’s three put the Tigers ahead for good.

Sophomore guard Mustapha Heron led Auburn in scoring with 16 points to go along with five rebounds, while junior forward Desean Murray and Brown joined Heron in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Charleston was led by junior forward Jarrell Brantley, who finished with a game-high 24 points, 18 of which came in a blistering second half.

Brantley played 38 minutes, but said that fatigue was not a factor in such an important game.

“(Fatigue) was the last thing on my mind,” Brantley said. “We were making this run for our seniors for the most part. So trying to push as much as we could for them.”

Auburn extended its lead in the second-half to seven points on multiple occasions, but Charleston would answer every Tigers run with one of its own.

“I thought our team played with great heart and with great toughness,” Cougars head coach Earl Grant said. “And, you know, our guys left everything on the court tonight.”

In the first half, the Tigers and Cougars competed to see who could miss more shots.

Charleston shot a combined 40 percent from the field in the opening period, to hold a slight edge over Auburn, which shot 28 percent and boasted a perfectly imperfect 0-13 from behind the arc.

Brown, the Tigers second-leading scorer coming in with 16.2 points per game, finished the first half with zero points on 0-6 shooting, missing all five shots he took from downtown.

Still, Auburn managed to lead 25-18 with under two minutes to play, before a 7-0 Charleston run tied the game up at 25-25 going into the intermission.

Riller scored the final five points of the Cougars run, and led the team with 12 points going into the break.