Auburn edged Oregon St. 71-69 to take third place in the Heavyweight Bracket of the MGM Grand Main Event tournament Wednesday night.
KT Harrell scored 8 of his team and co-game high 20 points in a matter of less than 2 minutes to bring the Tigers from 1 point down with 4 1/2 minutes left to take a 66-61 lead, and then Auburn buried 5 consecutive free throws, the last 4 by KC Ross Miller, who connected on 7 of 8 from the line, and it was enough to stave off a Beaver rally of back to back 3 pointers by Olaf Schaftenaar and Malcolm Duvivier in the final 10 seconds.
All that followed a critical sequence of back to back blown charging calls against Oregon St. between the 6 minute and 5 minute mark of the second half. Under normal rules, both calls would have been good calls, but in this tournament, the games are being played experimenting with moving the 3' arc under the basket that charging can not occur inside of out to 4 feet. In both cases, replay clearly showed the Auburn defender to be outside the 3' arc, but not the 4' arc in effect.
The first one not only wiped out a basket and a chance for a 2 + 1 for Jarmal Reid, it eliminated him from the game with his 5th foul. The next one cost Langston Morris-Walker a chance for a pair of free throws that, if made, would have kept the Beavers in a tie after Herrell's subsequent 2 + 1 prior to the final media timeout.
Oregon St. still had chances to pull out the win despite the officiating miscues though, after Victor Robbins had pulled the Beavers within 66-63 with under 2 minutes to go.
But consecutive steals only resulted in a tie up, with the Tigers owning the possession arrow, and a Robbing miss.
Another charging call, this one a correct one, on Morris-Walker, and back to back missed free throws by Duvivier, after drawing a foul attempting to put back Schaftenaar's missed 3 pointer, left the Beavers too many possessions behind with too little time left, despite the back to back 3s.
Indeed, the stat of the game was Auburn's 22 of 32 free throw shooting, contrasted with Oregon St.'s 11 of 17 at the line, and only 2 made free throws in the last 8 minutes.
"We had our chances, we took a lead, and we squandered it, but then we battled back," Oregon St. coach Wayne Tinkle said. "It's frustrating; it would have been such a big win with how hard we fought. We were still right there in the end, though."
"The little things are still costing us opportunities, and the players said in the locker room, ‘We have to start minding those things.' I am proud of the way we battled, but it's a game we feel we should have won," Tinkle added.
The game was back and forth early, and was never more than a 2 possession game until Auburn went on a 7-0 run starting 4 minutes before halftime to open a 37-30 lead, which positioned the Tigers to take a 41-35 lead to the locker room.
Technical difficulties that caused ESPN's stream to shut down for a couple of minutes early caused those other than the very tiny crowd on hand to miss back to back 3 pointers by the Tigers, and a 5 minute stretch unfolded with no sound up through the second media timeout, but it didn't detract from a highly competitive contest.
Morris-Walker and Payton combined for 6 points to get the Beavers within 1 point in the first 3 minutes of the second half, but Oregon St. was not able to catch Auburn until back to back baskets by Morris-Walker and Payton pulled past the Tigers for a 52-50 lead.
Schaftenaar extended Oregon St.'s run to 8-0, and 13-5, opening a 54-50 lead at the midway point in the second half, but Harrell and Ross-Miller responded with 5 straight points, as Auburn went back up by 1 with 9 minutes to go.
It remained a 1 possession game until the pivotal back to back charging calls in error, and the ensuing 8-2 run by Harrell.
Payton had a double double to lead Oregon St., with 20 points and a game high 12 rebounds, and Schaftenaar was next on the score sheet, with 13 points. Duvivier finished with 12, and Morris-Walker was also in double digits, with 10.
In addition to Harrell, Ross-Miller and Tahj Shamsid-Dean both had 11 point nights for the Tigers, and Cinmeon just missed a double double, with 10 points, and a Tiger-high 8 rebounds. Malcolm Canada also added 11 points for Auburn off the bench.
Auburn improved to 3-2 for the season, while Oregon St. slipped to 3-2.
It will be a game in which Oregon St. can take some satisfaction from playing competitively to the finish, including getting minutes from 2 of their walkons, Matt Dahlen and Dylan Livesay. But it will also be a lasting disappointment, as a win got away due to a variety of circumstances in the last 6 minutes.
If the NCAA is going to continue to experiment with rules changes in early season tournaments, as they have done for years, the rules should also be amended to allow video review of calls involving the altered rules. It's unlikely the fact that the Beavers lost this game will impact their post-season possibilities, and its only slightly more likely Auburn is going anywhere either, but you never know at this point, and it could have been a miscue that altered tournament participation.
But the Beavers are going to need to find their way to the line more down the stretch, and convert once they get there. Tonight saw some excellent inside passing by Oregon St., and by several players, but this team, which out-rebounded Auburn 30-24, and had a 4-1 edge in blocked shots, needs to ensure they don't lose the game at the free throw line, the one place where they needn't be at a disadvantage.
The Beavers will return to action next Wednesday night at Gill Coliseum, against at this point still winless Mississippi Valley St. The game will be at an insanely late time, not tipping until after 9 PM.