In case you weren’t actually paying attention last night, a lot happened at Auburn Arena. Most importantly, Auburn beat the pants off of Alabama by a final score of 90-71, and ran away in the end in complete and unabashed alley-oop, follow-jam, NBA-three style.
Jared Harper scored 21 points, Bryce Brown scored 18 (but went 3-14 from three), Chuma Okeke got 16 and 10 off the bench, and Malik Dunbar got 14 and the start in place of Mustapha Heron, who was out with a stomach bug.
This game pretty much told the heroic tale of two Auburn Tigers -- Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke. First, let’s go with Harper. He played with Collin Sexton in high school, and is the completely overshadowed alum playing point guard in the SEC. While Sexton’s going to be a lottery pick, and should have a great NBA career, he’s nowhere near the team leader that Harper is. Harper runs the offense better, involves his teammates better, and can still take over a game in the process.
And Harper’s got about the best range in college basketball.
“From the logo” is no exaggeration. Both feet are clearly in the blue of the Auburn logo when he shoots, and it seems like each game he gets a little more bold.
Auburn PG Jared Harper: "I don't really look down to see where I shoot from until after the game."— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) February 22, 2018
This is the greatest quote in basketball press conference history.
With Mustapha Heron battling a stomach virus, and Anfernee McLemore out for the year after that injury against South Carolina, Auburn was down to just seven scholarship players. They added Horace Spencer and Malik Dunbar into the starting lineup, and both guys played exceptionally well.
Dunbar hit two early threes as Auburn opened up a 14-2 lead, and then later in the game he threw down what might have been the dagger.
Horace Spencer played great defense early, but earned two fouls in the first half, and then threw down a huge dunk that brought the house down (right after Dunbar’s jam).
This opened up Auburn’s biggest lead of the night at 24 points and started the party with four minutes left in the game. From there it was a celebration as Alabama tried to string together a late comeback and failed miserably.
Just like the Iron Bowl across the street, the student section made this one what it was.
Auburn student section's Swag Surf, basketball edition: pic.twitter.com/0aKydbuvle— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) February 22, 2018
Just like Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn has established the best home court advantage in the SEC. To be honest, they’re not far off from the top when you consider the entirety of college basketball either. This season, there haven’t been many tougher places to play.
And last night, this wasn’t just about basketball, but about Auburn beating Alabama in general. I’m sure you’re aware, but we had the awarding of the ODK Iron Bowl Trophy to the Auburn football team after their fantastic win over Alabama in November.
Watch Gus Malzahn and the Auburn football accept the ODK Trophy for beating Alabama and winning the Iron Bowl pic.twitter.com/gMztbnFiMp— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) February 22, 2018
With Bruce and Gus being such good buddies, it was nice to see them able to enjoy the win afterward last night.
Bruce Pearl and Gus Malzahn share a moment after Auburn’s victory against Alabama. pic.twitter.com/7wu4uY9P4x— Brandon Marcello (@bmarcello) February 22, 2018
But right now, this is all about the Auburn basketball team and Bruce Pearl doing something that hasn’t been done in a couple decades.
Overall, Auburn beat a really good team last night and did it in style, never trailing at home and running away in the end. What does that mean for the SEC race?
Right now, Auburn sits at 12-3. We’re still a full two games plus tiebreaker ahead of Tennessee, who beat Florida last night to move to 10-5. The Vols are the only team that can catch Auburn for the regular season championship. It’ll be tough for them though, as they need to win out and hope that Auburn loses out. A single Tiger win OR a single Vol loss clinches the SEC for Auburn.
If the SEC Tournament started today, Auburn would be the 1-seed, earning the double bye into Friday in St. Louis. Right now, the lowest Auburn can fall is the 2-seed, which means they would play someone ranked 7th-10th in the conference in their first game. Our friends across the way have done the legwork for us.
What the SEC Tournament would look like if the season ended today https://t.co/Xn7y1ndD5T— SB Nation College (@sbncollege) February 22, 2018
If the tournament started today, Auburn would play the winner of Arkansas vs LSU, then likely the 4-seed Kentucky in the semifinals. It’s a draw I can get behind, except for the fact that Big Blue Nation will be out in force in St. Louis, and it might be more of a home game for the Wildcats than it would be for any other team in the tournament.
Auburn plays Florida this Saturday night at 7:30 pm CST, and with a win they can clinch the SEC Championship. Tennessee has to play at Ole Miss at 11 am, and if they lose, Auburn will have the title before even taking the floor in Gainesville. What a way to head into March! War Eagle!