Johni Broome, Auburn Hold Off Iowa 83-75 in First Round of NCAA Tournament

Ncaa Auburn Iowa Basketball

Auburn guard K.D. Johnson (0) shoots around Iowa forward Kris Murray (24) during the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the men’s NCAA Tournament in Birmingham, Ala., Thursday, March 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

By JOHN ZENOR AP Sports Writer

When it comes to Auburn and the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers know how to make an opening statement.

Johni Broome had 19 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, and No. 9 seed Auburn beat Iowa 83-75 on Thursday for its 10th consecutive opening-round win dating to the mid-1980s.

The Tigers (21-12) made 11 of 12 free throws over the final four minutes to lock up a second-round matchup with No. 1 seed Houston or Northern Kentucky.

It was a decidedly Auburn-oriented crowd at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, two hours from campus.

“They were loud and rowdy the whole game,” Auburn guard Allen Flanigan said. “It felt like a home game for us.”

Broome even made his ninth 3-pointer of the season to push the margin into double digits for the first time with 16 minutes left.

The Tigers appeared poised to pull away in front of a partisan orange-and-blue crowd, going up by 17 with a 13-2 run midway through the second half sparked by Tre Donaldson’s three 3-pointers off the bench.

The eighth-seeded Hawkeyes climbed back into it, twice cutting it down to four but coming no closer.

“We knew they had another run in them,” Broome said. “We were like, ’Let’s make a stop and win this game.’”

Auburn had six players score in double figures. Wendell Green Jr. had 15 points, and Donaldson, Jaylin Williams and KD Johnson each finished with 11. Allen Flanigan scored 10.

Payton Sandford scored 21 points for Iowa. Kris Murray had 15 points on 5-of-18 shooting and nine rebounds. Filip Rebraca scored 14 points.

The Hawkeyes found themselves playing in essentially a road game. But they declined to use that as an excuse.

“We’re used to playing in hostile environments,” Connor McCaffery said. “Obviously if we had our choice we would have preferred it to be a little more neutral, but that’s not why we lost at all.

“We won at Rutgers, we won at IU (Indiana) and those places are 100 times louder than it was here today.”

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, Connor’s father, echoed that sentiment after his team ended with a third straight loss.

“Every game in our league is a hostile environment so it cannot be an excuse, nor do we want to make it one,” he said. “We were right there, and you have to give credit to your opponent.”

Johnson had a scary moment in the final minute of the first half.

He went up attempting to block a shot by Rebraca, who pump-faked and sent Johnson somersaulting over the top of the Iowa player.

The junior guard landed with a thud on his lower back and buttocks, sending the crowd into a hushed silence. Johnson stayed down briefly, writhing in pain, before heading to the bench to get checked out. He played in the second half.

“I was just scared,” Johnson said. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t hurt myself in any other way. That was crazy.”

Auburn made seven 3-pointers in the second half after a 1-of-9 start.

“Our speed and quickness was obviously a factor on the defensive end,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said.

Up next, Auburn faces Houston. The Tigers are 1-6 all-time against Houston, which is among the favorites to win it all.

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