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HONOLULU (AP) — A strong defensive effort and a balanced attack offensively fueled Harvard in a 69-51 win over Auburn on Wednesday and into the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic.
Corey Johnson scored 14 points, Zena Edosomwan and Evan Cummins had 13 points apiece for the Crimson (5-6) and Agunwa Okolie added 11 and Patrick Steeves 10.
Harvard held the Tigers (6-4) to a season-low in points. They entered the game averaging 83.8 points per game, but shot just 30 percent (19 of 63) from the field.
"Our calling card has been our defense," Crimson coach Tommy Amaker said. "I'm so proud of our guys for how they've been able to embrace that and believe in that."
Harvard shot 47 percent (25 of 53) from the field, including 57 percent (16 of 28) in the first half to build a 40-29 lead.
Steeves had a team-high seven rebounds and Cummins recorded five assists.
Cinmeon Bowers had 17 points, Bryce Brown 13 and Tyler Harris added 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Tigers.
Auburn never held a lead and was just 7 of 17 on free throws.
Harvard used an early 13-0 run to turn a 4-all tie into a 17-4 lead on a Johnson 3-pointer with 14:30 left in the first half. Corbin Miller drained a shot from behind the arc to cap an 11-2 run that stretched his team's lead to 28-12 with 6:06 until the intermission.
Amaker said starting fast was a topic of conversation for his team coming into the game.
"We talked about that," Amaker said. "That was a key for us (Tuesday) and it was certainly key for us again today that we were ready to go and certainly in a tournament atmosphere like this, where you've playing games on consecutive days, that's critical to get off to a great start and I think our defense has been able to help us with that and we've been very confident as we've been in this tournament thus far."
Auburn got to within 46-35 on a Horace Spencer free throw early in the second half, but allowed a 14-2 run that made the Crimson lead 59-39 — their largest lead of the game — at the 11:45 mark.
Tigers coach Bruce Pearl lamented his team's sluggish start, but gave credit to the opposition.
"Harvard played great defense," Pearl said. "I told our guys that if we slept through our stuff in the half court we're not going to be able to score and we slept through our stuff and didn't score.
Kareem Canty, who was averaging a team-best 20.8 points, was held to 1 of 15 shooting from the field (1 of 8 from 3-point range) and finished with just three points. His previous low mark this season was 11 points against Coastal Carolina on Dec. 2.
"That's the first time, his first game where he didn't have it and a lot of those shots he takes, he makes and he just didn't have it today," Pearl said.
It was the first meeting between the teams.
Auburn: Guard T.J. Dunans, who had 20 points in Monday's overtime win over BYU, went down with an apparent left knee injury with just one second left in the first half trying to go for an offensive rebounds. He had to be carried off the court and back into the locker room. He later returned to the bench, but did not reenter the game. "Losing Dunans early hurt," Pearl said. "We've played 10 games now and he's played really well in six of them and we've won them all and in the four games he didn't play great, we didn't win. We need him, so losing him was a factor and he didn't get off to a very good start." Pearl said he doubts that Dunans will be able to play in Friday.
Harvard: It was the third consecutive game that at least four players scored in double figures for the Crimson. All three games have been wins. "Balance is always key for us and it's a word that we use in our program," Amaker said. "Not just balance on the court, but balance in our lives and we really embrace that word and when we have balance on this floor when we play, most good teams are balanced and we've been balanced here for the last two games."
Harris had his fifth double-double of the season and first since scoring 20 points with 11 rebounds in a 78-71 win over Mercer on Dec. 15. He is averaging 14.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Bowers finished one rebound short of his seventh double-double of the year. He finished with nine rebounds to go with 17 points Tuesday.
Auburn will play the loser of Oklahoma-Hawaii in the third-place game Friday.
Harvard will face the Oklahoma-Hawaii winner for the tournament title Friday.
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