Last season, a lot of people saw the UGA win on the road as a pivotal moment in sparking the Tigers to the run in the postseason. It was the beginning of the winning streak, and despite not playing great against a bottom-tier SEC team, Chuma Okeke hit a game winner at the buzzer. All season, his teammates had been telling people he was the most talented guy on the roster, but that he just didn’t have that confidence yet. This game changed that, and from that moment until he went down against UNC in the Sweet 16, it was Chuma’s team.
But this isn’t about that game. The season prior, Auburn was in a similar situation. After cruising to 12-1 in non-con play and then beating ranked teams in consecutive games (at #23 Tennessee, home vs #22 Arkansas), the hype was finally surrounding Bruce Pearl at Auburn. After getting all the way to 17-1, however, Auburn dropped a midweek game in Tuscaloosa. Despite all of the fun and success up to that point, that loss stung, and fans (myself included) were already wary of Auburn basketball slipping back into what it had been for the last 15 years. Was this loss the beginning of a regression? Or was this program ACTUALLY ready to blow up?
Enter UGA into Auburn Arena, on a Saturday night. This was the first game in Auburn after the students were back from winter break, and to say the atmosphere was electric was an understatement. I remember deciding I should go get in line a little earlier than normal for this game, because I just missed out on getting in the bleachers for the previous game. This turned out to be an excellent move, because, well...
This game saw the students turn out in droves. By the time the Pearly Gates opened 90 minutes before tipoff, the student line had stretched back up to Aubie Hall (the dorm in the background of the video), around the side, and close to the parking lot behind the Village. This was uncharted territory for Auburn basketball support. To add another story of just how great of a hype man Bruce Pearl is, he came out before the doors opened and thanked everyone in this line, thanking people and giving out high fives from the front all the way to the back of the line to make sure everyone knew how much he appreciated their support. I love that man. There’s another fun story from pregame of this one that I’ll share in the comments, but at 400+ words, I probably need to get a move on.
So now that the picture is set...
Bryce Brown: 28 points, 2 steals, 5-9 from 3P
Date: January 20, 2018
Final Score: Auburn 79, UGA 65
Things looked bleak early. Auburn came out slow, and unable to sink a shot to save their lives. Georgia, to their credit, hung 40 on the Tigers in the first half, including 15 points in the last 5 minutes. It was bleak. After all the excitement, all the energy, all of the wins... Auburn might not be that good. I mean, 26 points in the first half against GEORGIA? They suck at basketball!
The second half was a whole other story. Auburn busted out of the gates with a TWENTY-FIVE TO FOUR run, and Auburn Arena was a madhouse. Part of that run saw Bryce Brown hit a pair of threes to get into double digit scoring on the night, and Mustapha Heron had a drive and dunk to take the lead that sent the place into a frenzy.
I know gifs are often the preferred format in articles like this, but I love these calls by Rod too much to cut them out.
Towards the end of this run, Jared Harper hit one of his patented mile high layups while sliding to the floor, and yes, I’m mainly mentioning this for a fun Dr. McLaughlin video, because I only wish every single one of you could get a chance to watch a basketball game with this man.
This really was Bryce Brown’s game, though, as he hit five threes and was all around the best player on the court that night. He added a pair of steals that ended up in easy layups in the second half to help clinch the game, and at the end of this one, you started to get a sense that Auburn was serious about this season. If you weren’t on board after the 12-1 non-con, if you weren’t on board after the two ranked wins, you were on board after this one. ESPECIALLY if you were in Auburn Arena. Commenter DBAU81 put it best in the recap article the next morning.
I was lucky enough to be there. The second half was unreal. I’ve never seen the Arena (particularly the student section) as electrified as it was last night. We are now seeing tangible results from the energy Bruce has brought to this program, and the connection he immediately made with the fan base when he first arrived. It’s fun to watch. And those kids on the team who have endured through the off-court distractions and the loss of two key teammates deserve it.
Here’s all the highlights from the night.