A.J. Harris had an easy layup for the tie. He wanted a win for New Mexico State.
It didn’t work out, but boy-oh-boy, what a way for the Aggies to go down swinging Thursday against fifth-seeded Auburn in the NCAA Tournament.
With the clock ticking down, Harris passed on an open layup and kicked out to wide-open teammate Terrell Brown, who was spotted up for the game-winner behind the arc. Brown was fouled as he took the shot, but missed two of three free throws with 1.1 seconds left, and Auburn escaped with a 78-77 victory in Salt Lake City.
It’s hard to call the 12th-seeded Aggies losers after their showing in the opening round of the Midwest Regional, though.
“I can sit up here and second guess,” said New Mexico State coach Chris Jans, “but if he makes the 3, or makes all three free throws, it’s an Ali-Frazier moment.”
Harris said he knew the Aggies were trailing by two as he took the inbounds pass with 6 seconds left, darted up the left side of the court, sped past J’Von McCormick, and then got a step on Auburn forward Chuma Okeke. There was nothing but air between the 5-foot-9 guard and the basket as he made his way through the key.
“I had an open shot,” Harris said. “But I felt Terrell Brown was going to hit the 3.”
He missed, but took a foul from Bryce Brown. With McCormick making the choke sign as Brown toed the line — “I saw in his face, he was pretty scared,” McCormick said — the junior guard watched his first free throw clank out. He made the second. Then the third bounced around the iron before bounding out.
Auburn knocked the rebound out of bounds and New Mexico State’s Trevelin Queen had an open look from the wing at the buzzer but shot an air ball.
The Tigers (27-9), who were led by Jared Harper’s 17 points, face Kansas on Saturday.
Kansas 87, Northeastern 54 • Dedric Lawson had 25 points and 11 rebounds, and the Jayhawks dominated in Salt Lake City.
Fourth-seeded Kansas (26-9) had a notable size advantage inside and used it, outscoring the Huskies 50-16 in the lane. Devon Dotson controlled the offense and scored 18 points, while Dedric’s brother, K.J., chipped in 13 points.
Jordan Roland had 12 points to lead the Huskies (23-11), who shot 28 percent.
Kentucky 79, Abilene Christian 44 • Keldon Johnson scored 25 points in a huge mismatch in Jacksonville, Fla., that was over by halftime.
The second-seeded Wildcats (28-6) shot 60 percent in the opening period and led 39-13.
Even without PJ Washington, who has a sprained foot, the Wildcats had far too many weapons for the Southland Conference representative, a No. 15 seed, that was led by Jaren Lewis’ 17 points.
Abilene Christian finishes at 27-7.
Kentucky on Saturday faces Wofford.
Wofford 84, Seton Hall 68 • Fletcher Magee set the Division I career record for 3-pointers, poured in 24 points and led the seventh-seeded Terriers to victory in Jacksonville, their first in the event in five tries.
Magee hit seven 3s against the No. 10 seed Pirates and has 509 in four seasons, breaking the career mark set by Oakland’s Travis Bader in 2014. The guard was seven of 12 behind the arc Thursday (30-4).
Myles Powell led the Pirates (20-14) with 27 points, on 10-of-25 shooting.