PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – It was the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis, but it felt like an NCAA Tournament game Wednesday with No. 19 Auburn and No. 22 UConn trading blow for blow in a double overtime classic. The Huskies prevailed, 115-109.
"You go to tournaments to play games like this," Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. "This was like March. We competed. We came here to win. We're disappointed.
"But I thought we answered the question of whether or not we were tough enough. We got punched in the mouth, and we punched back."
Sophomore K.D. Johnson earned his first start of the season for Auburn and responded with a career-high 27 points, including 23 points in the second half and overtime periods.
Every time the Tigers needed a bucket, Johnson delivered. Down two at the end of regulation, he sliced through the defense and somehow got a shot up and in to make it 83-83. Auburn was down two again in overtime, and Johnson got a steal, drove the length of the court and made another tough shot inside with 0:03 left to send it to a second overtime.
"I was just trying to do anything to get a W," Johnson said. "I wasn't really focused on anything else. I was just trying to get a win."
Johnson also had a team-best five steals as Auburn forced 24 turnovers for the game. It was that never-quit attitude that kept the Tigers coming back time and time again.
Down 15 with 11 minutes remaining, they fought their way back and took a 76-74 lead when Jabari Smith knocked down a 3 to cap a 19-5 run. Down 95-91 with less than 30 seconds left in the first overtime, they found a way to tie it. Even in the second overtime, after falling behind 109-100, Smith had a chance to cut it to one with a 3 in the final minute but missed.
Smith finished second on the team with 22 points and grabbed six rebounds. The 6-foot-10 freshman scored 19 after halftime and made all 10 of his free throw attempts.
Auburn had five players in total score in double figures with Johnson (27), Smith (22), Wendell Green Jr. (19), Walker Kessler (14) and Jaylin Williams (12). As a team, the Tigers made 32 field goals, 12 from beyond the arc and shot 33 of 41 from the charity stripe.
Green was who Johnson replaced in the starting lineup, but the Eastern Kentucky transfer came off the bench and ignited Auburn in the first half, knocking down 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions to put the Tigers out in front, 21-10. Green finished with four 3s for the game and led Auburn with five assists as well.
Kessler, a transfer from North Carolina, recorded his first double-double at Auburn with 14 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. During the second-half run, the sophomore had a key block that led to a Devan Cambridge 3 and then a 3-point play of his own.
It was 43-34 in favor of UConn at halftime. Both teams shot 50 percent or better from deep, combining for 15 3s in the first 20 minutes.
Adama Sanogo scored the first 10 points for UConn and led all scorers with 30 points.
The Tigers will return to action in The Bahamas on Thursday against Loyola Chicago who lost to Michigan State in the opening round Wednesday. The game is scheduled to tip off at 1:30 p.m. CT from Imperial Arena and will be televised on ESPN2.