MIAMI -- Auburn fought back from a nine-point halftime deficit but came up just short in a 44-42 loss to Hampton in the championship game of the FIU Fun & Sun Classic Tuesday afternoon at FIU Arena.
The Tigers (9-4) struggled to score in the first half but were able to create turnovers in the second half, keeping things close to the final horn. Auburn found itself down by 10 points in the latter stages of the game but fought back to a two-point margin. However, Auburn's inconsistency at the free-throw line - 9-for-17 in the game - proved to be a major difference in the two-point loss.
“It was an absolutely awful first half,” Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “There’s no way you can play as well as you did yesterday and come out as bad as you did in that first half. ... There’s certain things that you have to do in order to win a basketball game, and we’re not doing them. As long as we’re winning, we’re fine. But when we’re trying to play catch-up, we’re not doing what we need to do to win games.”
Brandy Montgomery and Katie Frerking were named to the all-tournament team. Montgomery scored eight points and pulled down six rebounds to go along with her 20-point, five-steal performance against FIU Monday. Frerking had a career-high 10 rebounds in Tuesday's game along with seven points; she scored 12 in the FIU win Monday.
Despite foul trouble that kept her on the bench most of the first half, Tra'Cee Tanner led Auburn with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Junior Cabriana Capers came off the bench and put together one of her best games in an Auburn uniform, tying a career-high with eight points and pulling down seven rebounds in 14 minutes of action.
Auburn scored just 12 points in the first half, owing mostly to an 11-minute scoring drought in which the Tigers missed 15 straight shots. A Khady Dieng jumper with 16:35 left in the half gave Auburn a 7-3 lead, but the Tigers would not score again until a Montgomery layup cut Hampton's lead to 12-9 at the 5:00 mark. Frerking then hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 12, but Auburn would not score the final four minutes of the half and trailed 21-12 at the break.
The Tigers turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, forcing Hampton (5-8) into four 10-second violations, and a 10-0 run to start the half gave Auburn a 22-21 lead. The Lady Pirates would move back ahead by as many as 10 points at 39-29 with just over eight minutes to play, but the Tigers kept chipping away. A Capers layup with just over three minutes to play made it a three-point game, and a Frerking free throw cut it to two. However, the Tigers could not take advantage of their last four possessions with a chance to tie or take the lead, missing their final six shots of the game.
Hampton's Malia Tate-DeFreitas led the Lady Pirates with 17 points and was named tournament MVP.
Southeastern Conference play opens Friday as Auburn wraps up a five-game road swing in Columbia, South Carolina. The Tigers will face the top-ranked Gamecocks at 6 p.m. CT, and the game will be televised by the SEC Network.