It’s honestly really hard to contain my excitement as I write this, but the bottom line is that YOUR AUBURN TIGERS ARE THE 2019 SEC TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONS.
Auburn destroyed, demolished, and dominated Tennessee 84-64 at Bridgestone Arena today to take their first SEC Tournament title since 1985. The Tigers won four games in four days, with today’s championship game being the only one decided by double digits.
To be honest, this game wasn’t close. Auburn trailed Tennessee 18-15 with 9:44 to play in the first half, promptly ran off a 16-0 run, and never looked back. The only time the lead got below 10 points after that was at the half, when the Volunteers scored at the first half buzzer to cut Auburn’s edge to 32-23 at the intermission. What we saw from the Tigers over the past four days rang true today, and Tennessee had no answer for it. Over the last ten minutes of the first half, Tennessee made two shots. Two. Auburn’s defensive pressure, and the turnovers that they’ve turned into a trademark, were the reasons that this presumptive #1 seed couldn’t make anything happen. Before halftime, the Tigers swiped 12 Vol turnovers and turned them into 13 points.
Oh, yeah... this all happened without Jared Harper on the floor. Harper got saddled with two fouls right off the bat, and he had to take a seat on the bench. No matter, next man up. J’Von McCormick stepped in and scored 5 first half points while dishing out 3 assists to keep Auburn afloat without the floor general. The Tigers weren’t even shooting well — they made just 5-20 three-pointers in the first half and shot just 32% overall — but the defense was that suffocating.
Once the second half began, it was curtains for Tennessee. The two teams traded threes to start the half, with Lamonte Turner burying two of his own in the first three minutes, but the Vols couldn’t keep up with the torrid barrage from Auburn. At times it seemed like the Tigers had six, seven, eight players on the floor, all of which may currently start for the Golden State Warriors. Despite Turner’s makes from deep, Chuma Okeke hit two threes of his own, Malik Dunbar nailed one as well, and Auburn suddenly led 41-28 at the first timeout of the half.
The turnovers continued to come for Auburn, and the offense turned them into points, but Auburn controlled the boards in the second half thanks to Bruce Pearl’s insertion of Austin Wiley to combat the Tennessee size. Auburn grabbed 20 rebounds to Tennessee’s 7 after halftime, with 9 offensive rebounds turning into 16 second-chance points.
And the threes kept falling.
Chuma Okeke went 4-6 from deep in the second period, scoring 14 points in that half. Bryce Brown finished the game with five threes. Even Danjel Purifoy came off the bench to swish two deep shots and finish with 10 points. In the end, it was a complete and total laugher. Down 77-57 in the final three minutes, Tennessee resorted to a tepid attempt to extend the game, but quickly abandoned the strategy and accepted their fates. The clock mercifully ran out to reveal that it was Auburn — not Tennessee, not Kentucky, not regular-season champ LSU — who ran away with the 2019 SEC Tournament Championship.
84-64. Tennessee was supposed to be a #1 seed when the brackets are released in about an hour. That won’t happen. Kentucky’s probably glad that they didn’t draw us today. They’d be looking in at four other #1 seeds if they did.
After watching this team win the regular season title last year, but limp into March with injuries and suspensions, this is cathartic. Auburn hit its peak in January last year, but now the Tigers are only getting better at the right time. If you’re a math nerd, that’s eight wins in a row. Two wins came over Tennessee, who was in the top ten both times. Two came on the road in Q1 victories, and then these games in Nashville all came on neutral courts against tough foes.
Auburn won close games up until today, and they unleashed hell on the Vols. We’ll probably still see the Tigers get their name called as a 4-seed when the bracket is released, but there’s not a team around that wants us in their region. Give us Duke again. I’d love it.
Today was unbelievably special, and we’re just starting to scratch the surface of this win. Bryce Brown’s 19 points overall were good enough to get him SEC Tournament MVP, but he should get hardware for his vicious barbs today too.
Bryce Brown on Auburn's SEC Champion shirts: "I bet Tennessee's look better 'cause they thought they were gonna win."— Nathan King (@byNathanKing) March 17, 2019
Also, he’s now up to 363 three-pointers in his career. That’s just five off of sole possession of second place in SEC history. We have at least one more game for him to hit that mark.
Chuma Okeke was fabulous today. He had 22 last Saturday against Tennessee, and he had 18 today with 13 rebounds! It was a huge double-double. Danjel Purifoy added 10 points on 4-5 shooting, while Jared Harper made just one shot and finished with 9 points thanks to some work at the foul line. As a team, Auburn shot 41% and hit 15 threes, but threw up 64 shots on the day. The defense was outstanding with 14 steals, and the depth that we’ve talked about was the MVP, with 30 bench points helping the Tigers run away with this one.
Tennessee got a huge game from Lamonte Turner with 24 points, but he was the only one. Grant Williams had a fairly innocuous 13 points, while Admiral Schofield added only 4 for the Volunteers.
Guys, I don’t know what to feel about basketball success. It’s not normal at Auburn, but it’s becoming the usual with Bruce Pearl in town. He’s given Auburn two banners over the last 53 weeks, and he’s made the sport fun again. It’s been such a huge effort turning this derelict program around, but Bruce got dirty and did things that nobody else was willing to do. His work led to what might be the best single basketball game that Auburn’s played ever. Seriously, when have the Tigers gone in and demolished a team this good with this much on the line? There’s nothing else that comes close in my mind.
There’s much, much more to come, but for now, just enjoy this win. Enjoy this championship. Watch the selection show coming up with glee in your heart. Once again, Auburn is your SEC Tournament Champion. War. Damn. Eagle.