Date: Sunday March 17th
Opponent: Tennessee Volunteers
Location: Bridgestone Arena - Nashville, Tennessee
Network: ESPN, Auburn Radio Network
Ladies and gentlemen, YOUR Auburn Tigers are playing for an SEC Championship today!!! What a run it’s been in Nashville these past three days and it culminates in the Music City this afternoon. Auburn hasn’t won an SEC Tournament since 1985, their only one. Tennessee hasn’t won one since 1979. One of those streaks comes to an end today. Here’s another remarkable feat this Auburn Basketball team has pulled off this year.
This is the first season in which Auburn basketball has beaten Alabama, Florida and Georgia twice each in exactly 60 years.— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) March 16, 2019
Auburn also did something Saturday they haven’t done in over 30 years. They beat Florida twice in a season for the first time since 1987-1988. Granted, the teams haven’t always played 2 times a year but still, they have 2 wins over Florida this year. They have now doubled their win total against Florida this century in the last 6 weeks. The defense played a big role in yesterday’s win as the Tigers forced 19 Gator turnovers. It was the most turnovers Florida had all year with their next most being 17, against Auburn back in February.
Yes, expectations were very high at the beginning of the year and there were some ups and downs but what Auburn is accomplishing this year is simply sensational.
In addition, in this 7 game winning streak by Auburn, they’ve won each game by 10 points or less. This team is battle tested. Yes, it stresses the hell out of us but the fact that Auburn’s been able to get the job done in close games here in March is a great sign for next week.
Like in the first matchup, there’s a lot on the line for Tennessee today. They have an opportunity to earn a #1 Seed in the NCAA Tournament with a win today so the Vols have plenty of motivation to win this game. They also have the added motivation of getting back at Auburn after losing to the Tigers 84-80 in an outstanding basketball game just 8 days ago. Auburn has beat Tennessee in back to back games and will look to once again thwart Tennessee’s plans of hanging a banner in Knoxville.
Before we get into Tennessee, let’s talk about what Auburn has accomplished. The guys on this team have won 3 SEC Tournament games, 3 more than they had when they began this tournament on Thursday. Auburn’s won games in which their best players haven’t always had their A games. Everyone has had their moments in this tournament.
- Jared Harper didn’t play great on Thursday but has carried Auburn the last 2 days. He’s hit some really big shots in this tournament, and has 52 points in 3 games. We’re not here today without him.
- Bryce Brown hit 5 3s in both the Thursday and Friday game and added 3 more in the 2nd half yesterday. He’s up to 358 career 3-pointers.
- Horace Spencer was a beast on Thursday with a double-double and has provided great energy off the bench as usual in this tournament. He hit a 3 Friday against South Carolina, only his 3rd of his career and it came in a big moment in the 2nd half.
- Anfernee McLemore has hit a trio of 3s in this tournament and his unselfishness on Thursday telling Bruce to leave Horace in the game when he was having the game of his life speaks volumes of how good of a teammate Anfernee is.
- Samir Doughty has accepted his role coming off the bench and been a great weapon in that role, hitting 5 of his 10 3 point attempts this tournament.
- Malik Dunbar had a dunk for the highlight reels on Thursday and scored 11 in the win over Mizzou.
- Chuma Okeke’s dunk on Friday was the only basket he hit against South Carolina, but that clinched the game for Auburn. His numbers haven’t been great this tournament but he’s got the potential to go off for 20 if Auburn needs it.
- J’Von McCormick continues to get better and his 3-pointer yesterday when Auburn was in a 19-10 hole got the Tigers rolling. He was also great on Thursday in the 1st half when Auburn needed a spark with Jared in foul trouble.
- Danjel Purifoy continues to grow into his role as well. While he didn’t score yesterday, he’s hit a trio of big 3s in this tournament and been very active on the offensive glass.
- Austin Wiley has come in and played 3 minutes both Friday and Saturday and given Auburn a spark both times. The offense started clicking with his presence Friday and his dunk yesterday sparked an Auburn run.
I could go on and on but the point is that this run through the SEC Tournament has been nothing short of a total team effort.
Get to (Re) Know Tennessee...
I’ll keep this brief since we played this team 8 days ago. We all know Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield are going to get theirs today. Williams had 25 points and 9 rebounds last Saturday and the whistle was favorable for him in that game. I honestly expect Williams to put up similar numbers today. Schofield had a less than pleasant experience in Auburn and I would expect him to come out with a vengeance today.
Jordan Bowden was on fire in the first half against Auburn and I was a bit surprised the Vols went away from him as the game went on. Lamonte Turner hit 1 3 yesterday but it was the game winner with about 30 seconds left.
I haven't even mentioned Jordan Bone who was referenced by Jay Bilas on College Gameday as the best guard in the SEC. Jared Harper may have something to say about that but Bone’s an outstanding player and hits a ton of big shots for Tennessee. Kyle Alexander is another bruiser down low for the Vols. They played primarily 6 guys last weekend with a few guys getting a handful of minutes but this is primarily a 6 man rotation at this point. They have the advantage today of 40 less minutes played but the toll ad emotion of yesterday’s game against Kentucky may be a factor in this one. That was quite the heavyweight fight Tennessee and Kentucky battled in yesterday afternoon.
What to Look for from Auburn...
I think Auburn has nothing to lose today, I really do. I know these guys want to finish what they started in Nashville but win or lose, Auburn fans have a ton to be proud of what this team did this week. Jared Harper played out of his mind in the 1st half yesterday against Florida. Don’t believe me, take a look at Florida coach Mike White after yet another Harper 3 in the 1st half yesterday.
Florida head coach Mike White after Jared Harper bottoms another 3: “wow” pic.twitter.com/F96jvf5uIb— Power of Dixieland (@PwrofDixieland) March 16, 2019
When Auburn needed a big shot late, he delivered, again, making his only shot of the 2nd half with just over 10 seconds left for the winning points.
Jared Harper's dagger has Auburn in the SEC title game pic.twitter.com/RpaNXfcq0v— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) March 16, 2019
Build this man a statue Auburn when his Auburn career is over!!
Bryce Brown has had 2 1st halves in this tourney where he’s failed to make a 3. Auburn is going to need Bryce on for 40 minutes today if they want to topple the Vols. As we have seen all season, Bryce has played great in many 2nd halfs and last Saturday was no exception. It’s the last SEC game for Bryce Brown and he’s made 13 3s in this tournament so far.
Bruce Pearl once again picked the perfect spot to put Austin Wiley into the game. One of my favorite segments from yesterday was when the score was 41-39 Florida, and Bruce got him with about 14 minutes left, he immediately got the ball, and got a dunk to tie the game. Next possession, he got the ball in the paint, Florida went to double him, he got the ball to Chuma in the corner and he drilled a 3. Then on the next possession, he came up with the loose ball and started a 4 on 1 break that resulted in a Samir Doughty 3. With all the big guys Tennessee has, we’ll see where Bruce puts Austin into the game for a 3 minute stretch as he has the last 2 days.
By the way, Samir Doughty has played very well in Nashville and I think he continues to fly under most people’s radars. Coming off the bench, he’s scored 8, 10, and 8 points in the 3 games and made some really big 3s in each game. His contributions off the bench have been a huge lift for Auburn in this winning streak.
This has not been Chuma Okeke’s best 3 games in Nashville. After going off for 22 points against Tennessee, he’s had just 12, 4, and 9 points in this tournament. His foot looks to have bothered him a bit in the last 2 games after getting banged up late against Missouri. This is a game where Auburn is going to need Chuma to play the way he did last Saturday against Tennessee.
My personal goal in this tournament was for Auburn to win 2 games and then whatever happens, happens. The Tigers benefitted from a very favorable draw to get into this spot but had to work extremely hard and play 3 tough games to earn their way to Championship Sunday. Each game this weekend has been tight, nerve-wracking, stressful and absolutely enjoyable! The fact is this: Auburn’s playing their 4th game in 4 days today while Tennessee is playing just their 3rd game in 3 days. Playing 9-10 guys is huge but hopefully guys like Harper and Brown who exert so much energy shooting will be able to do it one more day.
Auburn only had 5 turnovers in the first game and only 4 turnovers yesterday. This will be critical in today’s matchup. Ultimately, as much as this hurts me to do, I think Tennessee is motivated, and a bit fresher than Auburn is at this point. Tennessee has the SEC Player of the Year and you know what...... screw it!!!
It’s about time I have my Barning Hard moment on here! Auburn hasn’t won this tournament in 34 years, they haven't played in this game in 19 years and I can’t bring myself to pick against Auburn now! War Damn Eagle!!!
Auburn 79 Tennessee 75