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March Madness: No. 13 Yale comes back to shock No. 4 Auburn 78-76

No. 13 Yale came back from a 10-point second-half deficit to upset No. 4 Auburn 78-76 on Friday after Auburn had myriad chances to tie or take the lead in the final 30 seconds.

The Tigers led 61-51 with 9:53 to go before Yale slowly chipped away at the lead thanks to an Auburn scoring drought. The Tigers went over three minutes without scoring as Yale cut the lead to four with 4:41 to go.

Yale then took a 73-72 lead with a 3-pointer by John Poulakidas with 2:11 to go. The teams traded missed shots before Poulikidas committed an off-ball foul on Auburn’s Denver Jones with 46 seconds to go.

From there, the Bulldogs hung on. Somehow.

Jones, an 88% free throw shooter, missed the first end of a 1-and-1 before Danny Wolf made two more free throws to extend the lead to three. Auburn had a chance to tie the game with less than 30 seconds to go, but Tre Donaldson’s 3-pointer clanked off the rim.

Then after Yassine Gharram made one of two free throws, Auburn’s K.D. Johnson got fouled as he made a layup with 9.4 seconds to left.

Johnson missed his free throw, but Auburn got the ball via the possession arrow after a tie-up on the rebound.

Tre Donaldson then got fouled under the basket on the inbounds pass and went to the free-throw line. He missed both of his free throws … and Auburn got the rebound. Johni Broome missed a game-tying putback as he crashed hard to the floor and Jaylin Williams had a shot blocked before time expired.

Yale guard Yassine Gharram celebrates with fans after Yale upset Auburn in a first-round NCAA tournament game in Spokane, Wash., Friday, March 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Yale guard Yassine Gharram celebrates with fans after Yale upset Auburn in an NCAA tournament first-round game on Friday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Broome appeared to suffer a right knee injury as he fell to the floor and was seated on the court as Yale celebrated its victory.

Poulakidas had a game-high 28 points. He was 10-of-15 from the field and 6-of-9 from the 3-point line. Broome had 24 points as he was 7-10 from the field and 9-of-11 from the line.

The victory is the first in the NCAA tournament for Yale since the Bulldogs upset No. 5 Baylor as a No. 12 seed in 2016. The Bulldogs had made two March Madness appearances since then and lost both of their first-round games as a No. 14 seed.

Auburn’s loss continued a horrible start to the NCAA tournament for the SEC. The Tigers became the fifth SEC team to lose in the first round as they fell just minutes after Florida lost to Colorado. Mississippi State, Kentucky and South Carolina all lost on Thursday. Tennessee was the only SEC school to post a victory on the first day of the tournament.

The Tigers entered the NCAA tournament as the SEC tournament champions and were the No. 7 favorite at BetMGM to win the national title. You could make a convincing case that Auburn was underseeded on the No. 4 line ahead of the tournament. But Auburn didn’t play like a favorite on Friday.

Auburn had numerous chances to put Yale away over the course of the second half and just simply couldn’t do it. The Tigers also missed Chad Baker-Mazara. He was ejected within the first five minutes of the game for a flagrant 2 foul on Yale’s August Mahoney. Baker-Mazara entered the game as Auburn’s third-leading scorer.