NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Maybe coach Bruce Pearl should have yelled like this at his Auburn Tigers sooner.
He jumped all over the Tigers at halftime, and Auburn rallied from 10 points down at the break to upset fifth-seeded Texas A&M 66-59 Thursday in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The Tigers (14-19) now have won twice in as many days after winning only four SEC games all season. Auburn also won consecutive tournament games for the first time since 2000, and they will play fourth-seeded LSU on Friday.
“This becomes the third team in 30 years of Auburn basketball history to win a couple games and advance in the tournament,” Pearl said. “Maybe that’s not something you want to brag about. But those are the facts, and those facts matter to these guys right here.”
KT Harrell scored 25 points, and Cinmeon Bowers added 10 points for Auburn.
“BP just came in the locker room mad, so when he gets mad, it’s time to go,” Bowers said. “We can’t back off. We got a steal, and it got us going.”
With nothing but the offseason ahead, the Tigers opened the second half with a 16-1 run hitting their first four 3-pointers. The Aggies didn’t hit their first bucket of the half until Alex Robinson scored on a layup with 14:31 left.
Fifth-seeded Texas A&M (20-11) lost its third straight and four of the last five, likely dooming the Aggies’ NCAA tournament hopes.
“They have got to step up and accept the pressure and be able to play in a pressure moment,” Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said. “We have got to get back to figuring out what’s best offensively at times to get us in offense.”
Alex Caruso and Robinson had 11 points apiece for Texas A&M, which now has to wait for a likely berth in the National Invitation Tournament.
“They kept attacking us,” Aggies forward Kourtney Robinson said. “And they kept making us turn the ball over.”
Auburn slumped into this tournament having lost six straight.
But Pearl has preached this tournament gives the Tigers a chance to thank their fans and show some signs of progress. For this game, the coach told them to win for themselves, and they picked up where they left off Wednesday night beating Mississippi State — their first win since Valentine’s Day.
It looked grim at halftime with the Aggies up 33-23. But Texas A&M blew a 14-point halftime lead in losing the regular season finale to Alabama, and the Aggies blew their second straight double-digit lead at halftime.
The Tigers took control with their strong start to the second half, and Auburn pushed the lead to double digits when Harrell hit three free throws with 8:13 left.
The Aggies couldn’t score as they hit only two shots through the first 18 minutes of the second half.
They trimmed the final margin with a couple of layups in the final two minutes.
SOUTH CAROLINA 60, OLE MISS 58: Tyrone Johnson’s three free throws with 0.7 seconds left gave South Carolina a wild victory over Ole Miss.
Several seconds after Jarvis Summers’ four-point play put the Rebels up by one, Laimonas Chatkevicius inbounded the ball to Johnson, who drove past halfcourt and prepared to launch a desperation 3-pointer. The horn sounded, but LaDarius White was called for a foul, putting Johnson on the line with a chance to win the game.
He calmly sank all three free throws and left Ole Miss’ Stefan Moody with a desperation heave that was way short and too late for the No. 6 seed Rebels.
The 11th-seeded Gamecocks (17-15) advanced to face No. 3 seed Georgia in Friday’s quarterfinal.
Michael Carrera scored 16 points, Duane Notice added 15 and Sindarius Thornwell 10 for South Carolina, which won despite shooting just 30 percent.
TENNESSEE 67, VANDERBILT 61: Josh Richardson scored 15 of his 22 points in the second half, and Tennessee beat Vanderbilt.
These in-state rivals hadn’t played each other in the tournament since 1987 with Tennessee winning that game, and they split the first two games in league play winning on each other’s home court this season.
No. 10 seed Tennessee (16-15) kept its season alive by finishing the game on a 20-2 run started with 6:18 left after trailing 59-47.
The Vols will play No. 21 Arkansas on Friday night in the quarterfinals.
Robert Hubbs matched his career-high with 16 points for Tennessee, and Devon Baulkman had 12.
Vanderbilt (19-13) snapped a five-game winning streak. The Commodores hit only one of their final 10 shots and turned it over five times down the stretch.
Damian Jones scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for Vandy.
FLORIDA 69, ALABAMA 61: Dorian Finney-Smith scored 23 points, and Florida overcame a slow start to make nine 3-pointers and beat Alabama.
The Gators earned a Friday quarterfinal matchup against top-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky thanks to Finney-Smith, who made 4 of 9 from long range to help them shake off an eight-point first half deficit and eventually build a double-digit lead in the second half.
No. 8 seed Florida (16-16) went on to complete a season sweep of the Crimson Tide and win its third game in the past four. Eli Carter added 11 points and Devin Robinson 10 for the Gators, who shot 43 percent and were 9 of 29 from 3-point range.
Jimmie Taylor and Levi Randolph each scored 15 points for No. 9 seed Alabama (18-14).