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NCAA Tournament First Round: Charleston goes toe-to-toe with Auburn, but comes up short down the stretch

Missed free throws and potentially a missed foul call doomed the CAA champs.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Auburn vs Charleston Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The CAA champion College of Charleston Cougars gave Auburn all it could handle on Friday in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, before losing 62-58.

It started with an abysmal shooting performance from both teams in the first half, though thankfully that did not take away from the second-half excitement. The teams combined to shoot 2-27 from behind the arc in the opening 20, but both found some success in the paint, scoring 14 points apiece.

Grant Riller provided some flurries in the last minute with back-to-back jumpers as part of a 7-0 run, bringing the Cougars even at the half. Riller was one of two players in double-figure scoring with 16 points.

For the Tigers, it was their ability to generate points off the 21 turnovers they forced. They did an excellent job of being aggressive to the basket and getting to the foul line (32 attempts), but their 46.9 percent shooting from the stripe kept the door open for Earl Grant’s club.

With their leader, Joe Chealey, hobbled by a first-half ankle injury and an early exit due to fouls, the Cougars turned to Jarrell Brantley. Brantley got the job done in multiple ways. He went 9-16 from the floor with two three-pointers, scoring 24 on the night.

Mustapha Heron led the way for the Tigers with 16 points. He was one of three Tigers to finish in double figures. Bryce Brown had 10 points, including some timely three-pointers when the offense was struggling. Desean Murray chipped in 11 points and seven rebounds.

It was Jared Harper who stepped into a three with 1:16 on the clock to put Auburn up 59-56 that was the eventual digger. On the ensuing possession, Brantley missed the front end of a one-and-one, followed by a foul 40 feet away from the basket, then free throws pushing the lead to four.

The last 30 seconds saw both teams struggle at the foul line. The Tigers couldn’t put together consecutive makes, while the Cougars missed opportunities to close the gap. Riller had one last opportunity for a tie, but the shot was contested and came up short. It also appears Riller may have been fouled on the attempt.

Auburn awaits the winner of Clemson and New Mexico State on Sunday.