Don't ever count these Tigers out. Ever.
And if you're an SEC coach or sportswriter with voting power, maybe don't give the SEC's leading scorer (and the scorer of 44 points in the last two games) the back seat on the All-SEC team, but hey...
UPDATE: Fun fact here...
KT Harrell has scored more points in the last 2 days at the SEC Tourney than years Barbee has been alive.— Bobby Barkley (@bobby_barkley) March 13, 2015
Now, back to our history lesson.
First, Bruce Pearl made history on Wednesday night when the Tigers beat Mississippi State 74-68 for their first tourney win since 2009. Then he made history again yesterday afternoon when Auburn defeated Texas A&M 66-59 on its way to a second SEC Tournament victory. And yes—we're talking about the same program that hadn't strung together two SEC Tournament wins since 2000. Facebook wasn't even a thing then, nor Twitter. iPhones? Forget about it. Snapchat??? WE HAD DISPOSABLE CAMERAS, MAN. YOU TOOK THEM TO CVS AND SOMEBODY DEVELOPED THAT JUNK FOR YOU AND PUT THE PRINTS IN A YELLOW ENVELOPE. AND THEN YOU MIGHT CHAT ABOUT IT AFTERWARDS.
And not to date myself or anything, but at the time, this writer was in love with Britney Spears and collecting the very first United States-themed quarters (nerd). I'd wager that Auburn puts another game in the win column today before Britney drops another platinum album anytime soon...or before I find that collectable coin map at my parents' house.
Yeah. It's been a crazy, weird few days for Auburn basketball fans, but in the best way possible. After having to endure four years of a coach who spent more time walking down Magnolia Avenue with his posse to En Fuego on Friday nights than lifting a finger to defend his players and less time beating SEC opponents or getting to the post season like he pretty much guaranteed, it was refreshing for fans to watch an emotional Bruce Pearl congratulate some of those same players in the locker room after a solid team effort against a good Texas A&M team.
What's even more satisfying if you're a die-hard fan is the fact that Pearl and the Tigers have beaten two teams within 24 hours that essentially embarrassed them during the regular season. Mississippi State came into Auburn Arena earlier in the season and stole one in front of a rowdy home crowd to the tune of 78-71. Two games later, Texas A&M couldn't miss behind Danuel House's lights-out shooting and beat Auburn 71-61, then later in College Station 80-55. The Tigers have already reconciled these regular season atrocities within the span of two hard-fought games on the SEC's biggest stage.
No doubt the hundreds of fans wearing Kentucky blue in the stands of Bridgestone Arena have begun to quiver a bit at the thought of potentially facing these guys, but let's not get carried away...
Today, it's LSU, and the Auburn Tigers will once again have a chance to right another regular season wrong when they take on a team they split the regular season series with 1-1. One thing LSU faces that Texas A&M also dealt with today—before they were all but denied an invitation to The Big Dance?
The pressure was all on the Aggies today, because a win meant moving on, and thus a chance at the NCAA Tournament by the end of the week. They had everything to lose, and they did. Pressure's tough sometimes.
LSU? They have yet to play a game, and they face an Auburn team that's won two in 24 hours against teams that beat them in the regular season. You have to believe the Bayou Bengals will have some jitters, to say the least. And I'm no basketball expert here, but if I'm an outsider (so, basically, one of the hundreds of Kentucky fans who've made Nashville home for the week), I'm favoring a battle-hardened team over the one who hasn't even played a tournament game yet this week. Not to mention, LSU took the last game 84-61 when they came to Auburn Arena and faced the sleepiest starting five this writer has witnessed all season. Don't think Pearl and the Tigers will make that same mistake twice. It's all energy, all teamwork, and all for the fans—with nothing to lose.
Yeah, that's right. This team has nothing to lose, and to be honest, they have nothing left to prove, either. They've made believers out of the fans again, and they've sent shockwaves all throughout the state as opposing fanbases weep and gnash their teeth while pondering their head coaching situation. Players like Alex Thompson, Devin Waddell, and TJ Lang have proved that when the chips are down, they can step up and do more than just contribute. They can thrive. Jordon Granger and Malcolm Canada are getting scrappier on defense. K.C. Ross-Miller is showing what's he's fully capable of. Antoine Mason is finding his form again, and it couldn't come at a better time. Cinmeon Bowers is coming out of his slump and playing smarter, team-focused basketball (my gosh, he played one of his best games yesterday, and I don't think I saw a single #CimFlex for 40 minutes).
And KT. MY BOY, KT. He's playing with such silky smooth intensity that people are starting to remember why it's the biggest crime of the century that he didn't make 1st Team All-SEC this season. But we're not bitter, and neither is he. It's pure drive, hot fire, and he's not showboating, either. Just quietly making a statement with every trey, every drive into the lane, and every swish from the charity stripe.
LSU has some weapons, though, and unlike Texas A&M, they're not going to have their best player in a walking boot on the bench today. The team that sneaked up to the third-place tier in the SEC regular season standings and the 4 seed in the tournament didn't do so by accident. Star forward Jarell Martin balled out of control on his way to 27 points in LSU's final regular-season win against the Arkansas Razorbacks. While they won on a buzzer-beater, the LSU Tigers know better than to squander a lead at any stage of an SEC Tournament game, but it might not be that simple for a team without any tournament scars from the last couple of days. Martin will try to heat up early, and forward Jordan Mickey will aim to give Cinmeon Bowers fits in the paint.
If Bowers can keep his cool like he has so far this week, Mickey will be wasting his time. More than anything, Cim just needs to watch his mouth. As play is sure to get physical this afternoon, no doubt that the officials will bite at any opportunity to hand out technicals if emotions start flying out of control.
It's been a weird couple of days. To see Auburn play unselfish, smart, fundamental basketball on its way to two SEC Tournament victories has been a wonderful experience. Let's hope the Tigers (of the orange and blue variety) can get it done and keep the roller coaster on the tracks in Nashville. The defensive double-team will be crucial against LSU's Martin, and if Auburn can limit LSU's offensive rebounds, it'll set them up for the quick transition drives up the court we've become accustomed to watching this week.
With a 22-9 overall record to defend before Selection Sunday, and having been on the sideline this week with the third-round bye in hand, LSU sure looks like a team with a lot to lose. Auburn might have found another opportune moment to seize the day in dominating fashion. Before we all get antsy about the weekend, it's time to take care of business, to prove who the real Tigers are in the SEC—the ones with the bigger hearts, fighting for their fans and having some fun doing it.
On to victory, Auburn. Win, or go home. It's that simple.
War Damn Eagle.
Auburn vs. LSU
When: 2:30 PM CT
Watch: SEC Network
Stream: WatchESPN / ESPN3
Listen: Auburn IMG Network
Radio Affiliates (for those of you stuck at the office...BRING EARBUDS):
AUB: WGZZ-FM 94.3
BHM: WAPI-FM 100.5
ATL: WZGC-FM 92.9