AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s hopes of reaching the NIT semifinals for the first time in its history ended in a New York minute Tuesday night.
Rasheem Barrett’s 3-pointer at the horn drifted left and long, bouncing high off the rim and into the arms of a Baylor defender as the Bears cemented a thrilling 74-72 victory at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum to advance to New York City.
Baylor (23-14) will play against the winner of San Diego State and St. Mary’s at Madison Square Garden next Tuesday.
“Any time you have a game you lose by two points, that hurts more than losing by 30,” said Barrett, a senior who scored a team-high 16 points in his final college game.
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LaceDarius Dunn scored a game-high 19 points and Curtis Jerrells added 16 for the Bears, who won their first postseason game in 59 years last week and have reeled off victories in six of their last seven.
The loss ended a season in which Auburn (24-12) tied for the second most wins in school history and made the postseason for the first time in the Jeff Lebo era, ending a five-year drought.
“That’s why basketball is so hard in tournament play,” Lebo said. “Most teams leave the court with a loss and it’s hard. It’s not like a bowl game where half the teams win. So it’s always hard on the seniors because you always leave with that disappointment.”
The third-seeded Bears led most of the second half, up by as many as eight, but the top-seeded Tigers closed the gap in the final minutes.
Tay Waller shook off a poor shooting night to drain a 3 with 1:45 left to get Auburn within 73-69. After a defensive stop, Barrett hit another 3 to make it a one-point game with 19.3 second remaining.
Despite calling a timeout, Baylor could not successfully get the ball in bounds under its own hoop. Robertson dove to knock the ball out on the Bears’ first attempt. On the second, he blanketed a Baylor guard, forcing the inbound pass to sail wide and out of bounds for a turnover.
“He was all over the place, deflecting balls,” Lebo said. “The kids, you can see their grit and determination.”
DeWayne Reed, who scored 13 points for Auburn, got fouled with 8.5 seconds left on a drive to the hoop, but the junior, a 63.2 percent foul shooter, missed both free throws.
“To go to the line and miss two free throws to tie the game, it hurt bad,” Reed said.
“We’ve had numerous games where free throw shooting has cost us, and this one was another one,” Lebo said.
Jerrells made one of two free throws after being fouled, giving Auburn a chance with 7.3 seconds to go. Robertson pushed the ball before giving it up to Barrett, who came off a screen and got a good look at the hoop, just beyond the 3-point line.
“To tell you the truth, it looked good,” Barrett said. “It looked real good.”
The Tigers met briefly after the game at midcourt before trudging to the locker room as a Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum crowd of 6,582 gave Barrett, Robertson and fellow senior Korvotney Barber a heartfelt ovation for the final time.
“They’ve been through a lot of adversity at different times,” Lebo said. “They’ve stayed the course, they’ve been good leaders, they’ve set a good example. They came to Auburn when it wasn’t fashionable to come to Auburn to play basketball. …
“Those things mean a lot to me. Those guys have done so much.”
Rogers 7-12 1-2 15, Lomers 0-1 0-0 0, Jerrells 5-14 5-6 16, Dunn 6-10 5-6 19, Carter 5-9 0-1 13, Dugat 2-4 0-0 5, Diene 2-3 2-2 6, Jones 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-54 13-17 74.
Barber 4-12 3-5 11, Reed 5-10 1-5 13, Barrett 6-15 1-2 16, Robertson 1-2 4-4 6, Waller 2-8 2-2 8, Hargrove 3-7 2-3 8, Sullivan 3-9 0-0 8, Knox 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 25-64 13-21 72.
Halftime—Baylor 37-36. 3-Point Goals—Baylor 7-19 (Carter 3-6, Dunn 2-5, Dugat 1-2, Jerrells 1-6), Auburn 9-27 (Barrett 3-5, Sullivan 2-5, Waller 2-7, Reed 2-7, Robertson 0-1, Hargrove 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Baylor 39 (Rogers 12), Auburn 35 (Barber 13). Assists—Baylor 15 (Jerrells 8), Auburn 14 (Robertson 5). Total Fouls—Baylor 17, Auburn 17. A—6,582.