In case you missed it yesterday, Auburn beat Florida and is heading to the SEC Championship Game to play Tennessee. The Tigers took down the Gators 65-62 for their third win in three days in Nashville, and their seventh win in a row.
What do you notice from that highlight reel?
Let me give you a hint...
Jared Harper continued to go off. After a paltry 5-point outing against Missouri on Thursday, Harper went bananas on the Gamecocks on Friday, exploding for 27 points. Then, when it came to the semifinals, he put the team on his back in the first half and finished with 20 more points against Florida.
Every now and then we get Bad Jared, but more often than not we get Good Jared. We had a little bit of Bad Jared on Thursday, when he didn’t play but 27 minutes and only made one shot all game long. Friday was different. It was UAB Jared, where he drove with reckless abandon and frustrated the Gamecock defense into either fouling him or giving up a speedy layup. He was at a different velocity than the Gamecocks that day, and his play on both ends of the floor controlled the game.
Yesterday, he went Vintage Jared. Logo threes, stepping into the shots, the confident stroke, daring you to play him one-on-one... these are all trademarks of Vintage Jared. The entire conference got to see them on display. Jared decided that he was going to take control of the game and that there was little Florida could do to stop him. I’m a fan of that.
He hit big three-pointers yesterday and at the end of the Missouri game. Yesterday’s was one of the biggest shots of the season. It brought everything full circle from the Duke game, where Harper turned into the main attraction over the course of the game, even over Zion.
Last weekend against Tennessee, he wasn’t spectacular — that was Chuma’s directive — but he added a solid 16 points. Tomorrow, we need Jared Harper to give literally everything he’s got. We need him to do what he’s done over the past two games to give Auburn a chance to claim an SEC Championship. With the slump that the Tigers hit early in the conference season, the dream of back-to-back titles died quickly. Now, Auburn is 40 minutes away from a conference title... the kind of conference title that’s eluded them for 34 years.
Advice for Bruce today?
Let Jared be Jared.
Now, let’s address something.
It was a foul. It was meant to be a foul. That’s the point of what Auburn was trying to do. Yes, they got the contact a little later than they wanted to, but they still fouled him well before he got a shot up. Auburn won 65-62, but Florida should have had a one-and-one situation at the foul line with a couple seconds left to play. That means they’d need to make the first free throw and then miss the second intentionally, grab the rebound, and make a shot to either tie or win the game. It’s a lot to ask. The people online saying that Andrew Nembhard should’ve gotten three shots at the line to tie are kidding themselves and don’t understand the rule.
In the end, the refs didn’t blow the whistle when they should have as Auburn tried to foul, so it seems that they swallowed their whistles overall in that moment. Besides, you can’t say that that one play decided the game just because it came right near the end. The referees missed the ten-second call on Auburn a couple possessions earlier, when Chuma Okeke clearly threw the ball past midcourt well in advance of the clock ticking down. You can play the what-if game all day long, but maybe Florida shouldn’t have committed 19 turnovers if they wanted to win. Maybe guard Jared Harper. Maybe don’t shoot 70% and only take a four-point lead into halftime.
And as we look ahead to today’s game, what measures into a successful day for Auburn? A championship? We all want that, obviously. We have to recognize that we’re playing against a team that we just beat last weekend. They obviously want revenge. They just played the most emotional game of the conference season, taking out Kentucky in the semifinals in front of an insane crowd. Tennessee could be riding high. Emotionally and physically, they left it all out there on the floor against the Wildcats.
The Volunteer stars all showed out yesterday, with Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Jordan Bone combining for 59 points. However, the bench didn’t do much. The bench didn’t do much against Auburn last Saturday either, with only Jordan Bowden getting any real traction. Auburn’s best hope is that the big hurdle for Tennessee (in their minds) was Kentucky. We’ve already got an extra game under out belts, and so we may be a little more tired, but we are a deeper team that Tennessee. We’re going to have nine guys that can play and that we trust. The Vols seem to have just six. Maybe we’ll have spread the minutes out enough so that we’re as fresh as they are today.
Hey, Auburn made the SEC Championship Game. It’s the first time in 19 years that it’s happened, and it’s a huge accomplishment in itself. As Bruce said after the game yesterday...
“WE’RE NOT A TOP 25 TEAM IN THE COUNTRY, WE’RE A TOP 25 PROGRAM IN THE COUNTRY.”
I believe it with Bruce at the helm. This run isn’t a shock. It’s what’s supposed to have happened, and we’ve gotten to the precipice of unprecedented Auburn basketball success.
Let’s make it eight straight wins today. Let’s get our second straight SEC Championship and our first Tournament title since 1985. Let’s do it for Sonny, and Chuck, and these seniors, and Jared, who all deserve it more than anything.