BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBMA) — Houston's defense limited Auburn to one of its worst offensive halves of basketball this season and outscored the Tigers by 27 over the final 20 minutes to advance to the Sweet 16.
The Cougars trailed by double figures in the first half but held Auburn to just 16.7 percent shooting in the second half to help turn the game around and quiet a mostly pro-Auburn crowd. Top-seed Houston put up 50 points in the second half and walked away with an 81-64 victory.
Auburn (21-12) exits the NCAA Tournament in the Round of 32 for the second consecutive season. Saturday's loss was the Tigers' second largest margin of defeat this season.
The first half went about as well as Auburn fans could have hoped with the Tigers taking a 10-point lead into the break after finishing the half on a 17-4 run. Auburn shot 55.2 percent from the floor including making 5-of-11 attempts from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes.
However, Houston battled back and allowed just one field goal in the first 12 minutes of the second half. Marcus Sasser knocked down a 3-point with just under 13 minutes to go in the game to give the Cougars their first lead in over 12 minutes.
SEE ALSO: Baylor erases 18-point deficit to defeat Alabama in NCAA women's tournament
SEE ALSO: Alabama and Auburn supporting one another this week in Uptown Birmingham
Auburn had a response of its own, retaking the lead behind a spree of offensive rebounds and free throw shooting. Over a nine-minute stretch during the second half, the Tigers' scored all 10 of their points from the free throw line but that also came with some struggles from the stripe.
Johni Broome made just 3-of-8 attempts during that stretch and he finished 6-of-16 from the line. Auburn was 19-of-36 on free throws during the game including 15-of-26 in the second half.
Auburn's shooting woes became the team's undoing during the second half. The Tigers went without a made field goal for 10 minutes in the second half with the game swinging from a seven-point Auburn lead to a one-point Houston lead during that stretch.
The second half was filled with whistles as both teams took several trips to the free throw line. The two teams combined for 44 free throw attempts in the second half but the difference became Houston's efficiency.
Houston (33-3) made all 18 of its free throw attempts in the second half and finished 24-of-29 from the stripe in the game. The Cougars shot 41.7 percent from the floor and made 7-of-22 3-point attempts.
Tramon Mark led the Cougars with 26 points to go with nine rebounds. Sasser scored 22 points while Jamal Shead added 10 points and five assists.
Jaylin Williams had 14 points for Auburn, 11 of them coming in the first half. Broome also finished with 14 points. Allen Flanigan finished with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Houston advances to the Sweet 16 in the Midwest Region. The Cougars will play the winner of the Miami-Indiana game.