SALT LAKE CITY — As if adjusting to Utah’s altitude and playing in the early game wasn’t enough, the Auburn Tigers have been playing a lot of basketball in the past week. Their 78-77 victory over New Mexico State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Vivint Arena came on the heels of a successful four-game run at the SEC tourney in Nashville.
Before capping the off the latter with an 84-64 win against Tennessee in the championship game on Sunday, the Tigers knocked off Missouri on Thursday; South Carolina on Friday; and Florida on Saturday.
“This was our fifth game in eight days. Stop and think about that. Our fifth game in eight days. It looked like it,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, who noted that several players were tired and/or lacked energy. “We played Sunday. We traveled all across the country. We had to play hard because of the way New Mexico State plays. Our kids were pooped at the end.”
BLUNT ASSESSMENT: Auburn’s J’von McCormick didn’t mince his words when asked why he flashed a choke gesture when New Mexico State’s Terrell Brown missed two of three free throw attempts late in the game.
“I saw in his face he was pretty scared,” McCormick said. “We knew coming in they were a bad free throw shooting team. So that was the key.”Comment on this story
RETURNIN’ UTE: Former Utah guard JoJo Zamora, who transferred to New Mexico State after playing for the Utes in 2016-17, finished his collegiate career in Thursday’s 78-77 loss to Auburn. Zamora finished with six points, three coming from beyond the arc with eight seconds to make it a one-point game.
“We were down, needed a desperation shot,” Zamora said. “Just shot the ball without no hesitation. It went in.”
Although the Aggies ultimately came up short, Zamora was able to catch up with some of his teammates and trainers at Utah.
“It was definitely fun to come back to Salt Lake and see a couple of faces I haven’t seen in a minute,” he said.