Auburn 77, Kentucky 71
When: 2:20 PM ET, Sunday, March 31, 2019
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri
Recaps for Digital Sports Desk by Field Level Media
KANSAS CITY – There will two debutants at the Final Four ball this year. Auburn joined Texas Tech as first-time participants on college basketball’s biggest stage after a 77-71 overtime victory over Kentucky on Sunday in the Midwest Region final. The Tigers will face the Virginia Cavaliers in Saturday’s national semifinals.
“I’m not sure we thought this was going to happen,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said following the victory. “I knew this group wanted to make history. I knew they wanted to play good basketball, and I knew they wanted to represent Auburn.”
Jared Harper scored 12 points in overtime to spark the victory.
“I feel like our team played well the whole second half and overtime,” Harper said. “I can’t do what I did without having the support of my teammates and coaches.”
Fifth-seeded Auburn (30-9) reached the Final Four for the first time in program history. The Tigers had reached the Elite Eight only once before (1986) and denied Kentucky its 18th Final Four appearance, which would have given the Wildcats the second most all-time (North Carolina, 20).
The Wildcats remain tied with UCLA. Duke was denied in its bid to reach its 17th Final Four when it lost to Michigan State later on Sunday.
Auburn became the first team to defeat Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky — the three winningest programs in Division I college basketball history — consecutively in the NCAA Tournament, and the Tigers avenged two earlier losses to Kentucky. Arizona defeated those three in 1997 in winning the national championship, but not in a row.
“(Auburn) deserved to win the game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said following the loss. “We got outplayed, got outcoached and still had a chance to win the game. It never entered my mind that we weren’t going to win.
“The numbers say (we) should have won. I’m going to give credit to Auburn. They made us play the way we did.”
Trailing 35-30 at halftime, Auburn came out hot in the second half, opening with a 10-2 run. Bryce Brown hit two of three free throws to tie the score at 37. He missed the third but got his own rebound. He then hit a 3-pointer to give the Tigers their first lead.
“All I did was try to get out of the way, and get the ball to Jared or Bryce,” Pearl said.
No. 2-seed Kentucky (30-7) regained the lead when an alley-oop from Immanuel Quickley to PJ Washington resulted in a dunk with 13:29 left. But Auburn wouldn’t go away. A 3-pointer from Danjel Purifoy gave the Tigers their largest lead to that point at 54-50 with about nine minutes to play.
After the Tigers extended it to 56-50, Kentucky ripped off an 8-2 run to tie the score at 58 with 2:55 left.
Washington gave Kentucky a 60-58 lead when he followed his own miss with an eight-foot jumper in the lane with 56 seconds left. Harper tied it with a driving layup with 37 seconds left. After Kentucky missed several attempts near the hoop, a 3-point attempt by Horace Spencer caromed off the rim and the game went to overtime.
Harper scored the first two buckets of overtime to give Auburn a lead it would not relinquish.
Auburn was led by Harper with 26 points and Bryce Brown with 24.
Kentucky was led by Washington with 28 points. Keldon Johnson had 14 and Ashton Hagans had 10.
Kentucky seized control of the first half right from the start.
The Wildcats scored the first seven points and extended the lead to double-digits by the second media timeout. They kept Auburn at arm’s length throughout most of the half. Auburn used a 10-2 run near the end of the half to cut the lead to two points. But Ashton Hagans hit a three-pointer with 12 seconds left to give Kentucky the five-point halftime lead.
The Wildcats shot 45.8 percent from the field in the first half, while the Tigers shot just 36.7 percent. Neither team found much success from beyond the 3-point line, with both shooting around 30 percent. In the half, Kentucky was led by Washington with 15 points. Auburn was led by Harper with eight points.
With the win, the Tigers beat an opponent ranked in the Top 10 for the fourth straight game.
They’ll get at least one more try as No. 2 Virginia awaits in Minneapolis.
–Field Level Media
Michigan St 68, Duke 67
When: 5:05 PM ET, Sunday, March 31, 2019
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, DC
Recap for Digital Sports Desk by Field Level Media
WASH DC – Often using a lineup fractured because of injuries, Michigan State found the right combination in the East Region final.
“I can’t tell you how enjoyable it is because I know what these guys have been through,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Kenny Goins hit a go-ahead, 3-point basket with 34.3 seconds remaining as second-seeded Michigan State eliminated top-seeded Duke 68-67 in a classic Sunday at Capital One Arena in Washington.
After Goins’ basket, Duke’s RJ Barrett was short on a 3-pointer, but the ball went out of bounds off the Spartans with 8.4 seconds remaining.
Barrett was fouled on a drive at the 5.2-second mark. He missed the first and made the second.
Duke never got the ball back.
Michigan State (32-6), with a nine-game winning streak, meets third-seeded Texas Tech in Saturday’s Final Four semifinal in Minneapolis. It’s the first Final Four for the Spartans since 2015, and the eighth under Izzo.
“These guys, they earned their way,” Izzo said. “I wish you could see the work they’ve put in.”
Cassius Winston scored 20 points to go with 10 assists and Xavier Tillman had 19 points for the Spartans. Goins finished with 10 points, including 2-for-8 on 3s.
“It was an amazing game,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I thought the difference was Winston. He made big plays, either scoring or assisting.”
Zion Williamson’s 24 points and 14 rebounds and Barrett’s 21 points paced Duke (32-6), with its freshman-laden star power unable to pull off another dramatic victory. Javin DeLaurier provided 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“I’m not really looking back at the moment,” Williamson said. “We just lost the game, obviously, so trying to get through that emotion first.”
The Blue Devils were ousted in a regional final for the second year in a row.
Duke, which wiped out a four-point hole with seven straight points down the stretch, ended up with 17 turnovers.
The teams staged a back-and-forth second half.
Winston scored on a runner and Tillman added a three-point play in transition for a 63-59 edge.
Barrett’s 3-pointer with 2:29 left represented the 15th lead change as the Blue Devils took a 64-63 edge.
Williamson scored on a drive on Duke’s next possession. Tillman’s lay-in cut it to 66-65 with 1:17 remaining.
Barrett missed at the other end, with Michigan State calling timeout with 43.6 seconds left before Goins connected.
Michigan State led for most of the game’s first 10 minutes before Duke’s 12-0 run sent the Blue Devils to a 30-21 lead. Barrett had 12 points by that stage.
But after Williamson was called for his second foul, the Spartans scored the next 13 points to lead 34-30 at halftime. That meant Duke had a scoring drought of 5:23 to end the half.
The run became 15-0 until Duke scored on its second possession of the second half.
Michigan State was 2-for-11 on first-half 3s, but Duke was only 3-for-10. The Blue Devils were mostly hurt by 10 turnovers before the break.
Freshman Cam Reddish was the first reserve used by Duke. He missed Friday night’s game with what was described as a knee ailment. Reddish had eight points on 2-of-8 shooting.
Duke had won the last seven meetings with Michigan State.
–Field Level Media