Cinderella only got to party until midnight, but it feels like we’re out way past our bedtimes right now.
Pigs have flown, a rarity has happened, Auburn is going to the first Final Four in school history.
.@AuburnMBB IS DANCING TO THE #FINALFOUR FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER! #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/5zTtT7QZ0l— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 31, 2019
Auburn beat Kentucky 77-71 in a hellacious overtime war in the Elite Eight to advance to next week’s Final Four in Minneapolis. In a season during which the Tigers only made their second ever Elite Eight, the dream continues by playing into April. With today’s victory, the winning streak now stands at 12 straight games, and Bruce Pearl’s group avenged the blowout loss to the Wildcats in Lexington on February 23rd.
After losing Chuma Okeke in Friday night’s Sweet Sixteen blowout of 1-seed North Carolina, today’s task seemed nearly impossible. Kentucky’s length hassled Auburn even with Okeke on the floor, and we knew they played a rough brand of basketball that may frustrate the Tiger shooters and prevent the typical three-pointers from falling.
Instead, Auburn fought back after getting down by double digits in the opening minutes, and beat Kentucky at their own game. Behind 50 combined points from Jared Harper and Bryce Brown, the Tigers took every gut punch and delivered body shots of their own throughout. Jared Harper’s effort was enough to win him Midwest Region MVP after his 26 points today.
"I was just trying to get in where I fit in"— Simone Eli (@SimoneEli_TV) March 31, 2019
Wellll it worked! Auburn's Jared Harper named Midwest Region MVP after willing the Tigers to an OT win. He was unstoppable in the final five minutes. @Therealvinoo #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/MwQzSygsuV
Somehow, despite shooting poorly in the first half, and having Malik Dunbar, Horace Spencer, and Anfernee McLemore all in foul trouble, Auburn found itself in a 35-30 deficit at halftime. It could have been — should have been — much, much worse, and after the intermission, the Tigers turned into the team we saw through the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
After giving up the opening bucket of the second half, Auburn rattled off 10 straight points to take the lead. The key play came on a five-point trip from Bryce Brown. He got fouled shooting a three, hit two free throws, missed the third, got a steal, and hit a three to give Auburn a 40-37 lead. It was the first time the Tigers had led all game.
Brown gave Auburn the lead back at 47-46 on another three-pointer, and an Austin Wiley jumper put the Tigers up by their largest margin of regulation at 56-50 with 7:10 to play. PJ Washington tied the game at 58 in the final three minutes with a strong move to the basket, and then hit another layup with 57 seconds to play to give Kentucky a 60-58 lead. That’s when Jared Harper completely took over.
Harper drove strong to the hole and laid in the game-tying shot with 37 seconds to go, and the Auburn defense earned a stop on the other end of the floor, but the final offensive possession ended up with a Horace Spencer three-point attempt as time expired, and it fell well off the mark. We went to overtime tied at 60.
Jared Harper hit two running layups to give Auburn a quick 64-60 edge in the extra period, and then Anfernee McLemore made two straight shots to put the Tigers up 68-62. Harper’s third layup of overtime gave Auburn the biggest lead of the game at 70-63, but Kentucky battled back, pulling within a possession at 74-71 as Washington buried a clutch triple. As Auburn was in the double-bonus, Samir Doughty hit one of two free throws to keep the game at a two-possession advantage for the Tigers, and Harper closed the door with two more free throws and a six-point margin. Kentucky’s final shot fell off, Harper got the final rebound, and heaved the ball into the air as time melted away.
Auburn 77, Kentucky 71.
Unbelievable. Completely insane.
We needed the biggest game of the year from guys like Jared Harper and Bryce Brown without the help of Chuma Okeke, and we got it. Harper finished with 26 points to lead Auburn, including an 11-11 effort from the foul line. Brown added 24 thanks to a 4-7 day from behind the arc, and an 8-12 overall outing from the floor. The Tigers held strong on the glass, only losing the rebounding battle 41-37, and they shot 40% overall on the day, winning despite just 7-23 shooting from downtown.
Kentucky got a huge day from PJ Washington with 28 points, but it wasn’t enough as they hit just 5-21 three-pointers, and shot 44% overall. They committed 14 turnovers, and went just 12-21 from the free throw line.
Now, we get to completely uncharted territory for the Tigers. We’ll see them in action in Minneapolis on Saturday night against another 1-seed in the Virginia Cavaliers. We’ll have MUCH more coming this week on the matchup, and more tonight as we reflect on the biggest win in Auburn basketball history.