MINNEAPOLIS – One second away from playing for a national championship, Auburn instead saw its season end when Virginia’s Kyle Guy hit three free throws with .6 seconds on the clock, giving the Cavaliers a 63-62 win.
“We’ve got incredible character, heart and belief.” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “These guys have overcome adversity all year long. They’ve been doubted all year long. We’re just disappointed that we’re not going to have a chance to work tonight and tomorrow, and have a chance to play for a championship.”
Guy’s 3-pointer with 8 seconds left trimmed Auburn’s lead to 61-60, then Jared Harper made one of two free throws to put the Tigers up 62-60.
Samir Doughty was called for a foul on Guy’s 3-point attempt in the final second, sending the Cavaliers’ star to the line for the winning free throws.
“That’s why they’re reffing the Final Four because they’re the best of the best,” said Doughty, Auburn’s leading scorer with 13 points. “You’ve got to trust their decisions that they make on that floor.”
Trailing by 10 with 5:20 left in the game, Auburn scored 14 unanswered points.
Bryce Brown hit three 3-pointers in 2 minutes, 25 seconds to help turn a 57-47 deficit into a 59-57 lead.
“As soon as I saw that one go through in those final few minutes I knew that I had woken up and I could get my team back in this,” said Brown, who scored 12 points on four 3-pointers.
Anfernee McLemore hit a pair of free throws to cap the 14-0 run, giving Auburn a 61-57 lead with 17.6 seconds left.
“I was saying on the line, ‘Do it for Chuma,’ because Chuma got us this far,” said McLemore, of teammate Chuma Okeke, who injured his knee in Auburn’s NCAA Tournament win vs. North Carolina. “I was really calm. I wasn’t paying attention to the crowd. I went back to all of the free throws I took back at Auburn Arena and just knocked them down.”
McLemore scored nine points and led Auburn with 12 rebounds. Doughty topped the Tigers with 13 points, adding five rebounds. Harper added 11 points.
After Virginia began the second half on an 8-0 run to take a 34-28 lead, Harper hit a 3-pointer at the 14:14 mark, Auburn’s first basket of the half.
Doughty’s layup after an Auburn steal tied the score at 36-36, but the Cavaliers steadily built a 10-point lead before Auburn’s rally.
Auburn led 31-28 at the half after outrebounding the Cavaliers 20-14. McLemore (six) and Doughty (four) combined for half of the Tigers’ rebounds. They each scored seven in the half to pace the Tigers. Auburn ended with a 33-31 rebounding advantage.
The Tigers trailed 22-17 before closing the half on a 14-6 run. Doughty’s corner 3-pointer began Auburn’s run. Harper’s drive gave Auburn its first lead at 24-22.
Harper drove coast-to-coast for a layup that gave Auburn a 3-point lead with 1:29 to play. After Virginia hit a game-tying 3-pointer, McLemore answered with a 3 with 40 seconds left, restoring the Tigers’ lead.
Auburn ends a remarkable season with a 30-10 record, an SEC Tournament championship, and the program’s first trip to the Final Four.
Seniors Horace Spencer, Brown, Malik Dunbar and Cole Blackstock concluded their careers.
“That’s what hurts the most, that I won’t be able to wear this jersey again,” said Brown, who holds Auburn’s career 3-point record with 382, second in SEC history. “Hopefully I had a huge impact on this program, because this program has definitely changed my life to the fullest, not only in basketball but also as a man, as an Auburn man.
“I’ve grown, I’ve matured, and I’m just happy that Auburn gave me the opportunity to wear this jersey and be a great player.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer