Auburn had the No. 1 seed Houston Cougars very much on the ropes as Saturday’s 2nd round matchup in Birmingham went to the halftime break. Auburn scored 41 points in 20 minutes, making 16 of its first 29 shots against a team that allowed just 56 points a game on the season coming in.

The Cougars were on the road and facing a 10-point deficit. With 6:15 to play, Auburn trailed by 3 before catching fire and closing the half on a 17-4 run to go into the locker room up 41-31.

The script completely flipped and things came crashing down in the second half as the Tigers fell 81-64. Houston outscored Auburn 50-23 in the final 20 minutes to win going away.

Houston’s Tramon Mark scored 20 of his game-high 26 points in the second half. Star guard Marcus Sasser added 22 points despite fighting foul trouble all night. That duo, combined, outscored Auburn by themselves over the back half 33-23.

Auburn was led by 14 points apiece from Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome. Broome took 16 attempts from the foul line but managed just 6 makes. Allen Flanigan added 10 points for a Tiger team that shot just 38% from the field and 53% from the foul line (19-for-36).

The second half opened with a 9-2 run from Houston. Back-to-back triples from Sasser midway through frame gave the Cougars the lead for good and they wouldn’t relinquish it again.

Auburn couldn’t buy a shot and it couldn’t stop the bleeding at the other end. Houston’s shot-making was superb. Auburn’s offense was… not. The Tigers hit only 4 shots from the field in the final 20 minutes, going 4-for-24. It got a layup from Flanigan with 18:02 on the clock and then didn’t hit another field goal for 10:37 of game clock.

Still, in that time, Houston was only able to move from down 5 to up 1. Though the Tigers were woeful at the charity stripe, they were able to get themselves there and that kept them in the game.

A layup on the break from Wendell Green Jr. (9 points) made it a 1-point game with 7:25 to play.

Then Houston delivered the finishing blow — a 14-2 run that broke the game open. An and-1 from Williams got it to 8 with 2:07 to play, providing one last hope of a comeback, but those were Auburn’s final points of the night. Sasser responded with a back-breaking 3 at the other end and Houston closed the game out scoring the final 9 points.