In 2015, Auburn won three games in three days to advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals, where they’d face the then-undefeated Kentucky Wildcats and get blown out. No matter, it was a matchup of the top seed and the 13-seed, and nobody expected Auburn to get there. It was the fact that they’d done something unexpected on the thirtieth anniversary of the Tigers’ only SEC Tournament title.
Yesterday, Auburn got its second win in two days to advance to this year’s SEC Tournament semifinals, and the road ahead is a good bit easier than having to face one of the greatest teams of all time. Let’s see how it unfolded yesterday.
It’s not difficult to see why Auburn won. However, unlike the day before against Missouri, Auburn didn’t get production from the same guys. Chuma Okeke, Horace Spencer, Anfernee McLemore, and Malik Dunbar (40 combined points on Thursday) had just 9 points as a foursome yesterday. Nine. Where was the difference made up? There’s one major stat that tells the story:
- Jared Harper vs Missouri: 5 points (1-6 FGs, 2-2 FTs)
- Jared Harper vs South Carolina: 27 points (6-13 FGs, 12-14 FTs)
"You need ice for your back, Jared?" Malik Dunbar asked.— Benjamin Wolk (@benjaminwolk) March 15, 2019
"Yeah, you need ice for your back, Jared?" Samir Doughty chimed in, as well.
It was that kind of day for Jared Harper who finished with a team-high 27 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. | https://t.co/rkCw0rE6Ex pic.twitter.com/ydA898snPq
Harper’s 27 points almost take a backseat to the way that he controlled the game in the second half. It was a directive from on high that he’d keep the ball in his hands for the most part, and make an effort to get inside to initiate contact. He finished at the rim often, and when he didn’t, he was deadly from the foul line. You could see him hitting another gear when Auburn continued to turn the Gamecocks over.
Smaller lineup. Run, run, drive, drive. Jared Harper's forte. pic.twitter.com/ONRC7BKyiX— Brandon Marcello (@bmarcello) March 15, 2019
Jimmy Dykes on Jared Harper: “There’s not a faster guard in college ball than that dude right there.” pic.twitter.com/dhDbNMrJdj— Power of Dixieland (@PwrofDixieland) March 15, 2019
Together, he and Bryce Brown combined for 46 points, as Bryce had a good full game instead of a good half. Bryce went for 19 yesterday on 7-16 shooting, and continued his climb up the SEC record book.
I just want someone to look at me the way Bryce Brown looks at Jared Harper. #WDE pic.twitter.com/VMCTO0B8rE— Being nice is free. Loyalty will cost ya. (@Mr_Lamont6) March 15, 2019
With his back-to-back games of 17 and 19 points, Bryce is looking for serious consideration for the All-Tournament Team. He and Jared had themselves a day yesterday, and Auburn needed every single one of those points.
But what about the rest of the missing production from the group mentioned above? That’s where Samir Doughty and Danjel Purifoy come in with their combined 16 points off the bench.
The ultimate team quote today comes from Auburn forward Chuma Okeke.— Brandon Marcello (@bmarcello) March 15, 2019
"Our bench really doesn’t drop off. Danjel is me, and I’m Danjel. Malik is Samir, Samir is Malik."
For the second time in two days, Auburn showed the ability to adjust at halftime and make serious changes for the better. Bruce Pearl’s locker room changes have resulted in a 49-point second half against Missouri, and a lockdown performance where Auburn allowed just 28 points to the Gamecocks yesterday after halftime. Thankfully, we’ll never again have to see Chris Silva, who was great again yesterday, finishing with 27 points and 11 rebounds, including a 4-4 effort from three-point range.
And while Horace Spencer didn’t have the biggest day on the court, he did hit a monster three down the stretch, and got to enjoy something even more special with his son Avery’s second birthday.
Sharing the W with those who matter most.#WarEagle pic.twitter.com/HSbb5dSnC1— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) March 16, 2019
Now, it’s on to the next opponent. Auburn gets Florida today at noon with a trip to the title game on the line. Back in early February, the Tigers stifled the Gators at Auburn Arena 76-62 in a game that was never really close after halftime. These two teams came into the SEC Tournament on different trajectories. Auburn had won four straight, including nabbing three Q1 victories. Florida was on a three-game losing streak during which time they had lost to Georgia at home.
Everything’s different once you get into the tournament atmosphere, though, and the Gators are still standing thanks to a win over Arkansas and a thrilling victory against LSU yesterday. Andrew Nembhard buried the game-winning three with a second left to send the top-seeded Tigers home. Even though they didn’t have the best season, there’s no denying that Florida has been atop the SEC this millennium along with Kentucky. Bruce Pearl’s not letting his guys forget that.
Very Interesting speech by Bruce Pearl after Auburn’s win over South Carolina today... pic.twitter.com/YKLpTTOUfk— PK80 FLORIDA/Freddie Swain Vs The /#StandbyK5™️ (@Jasonkessler16) March 15, 2019
Both teams enter today a little tired, but Auburn should have the edge in that department. Florida’s only gotten 12 bench points in the first two tournament games, while Auburn has been able to count on 53 points from the bench bunch in their two wins. The Gators are likely going to have to rely a bit more on the backups due to it being the third game in three days, and they haven’t proven that they can carry the water for the team in Nashville. It’s an edge for the Tigers. Let’s hope that we get a few more as well.
Huge semifinal game today at high noon... War Eagle!