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A Tribute to Chuma Okeke

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#DidItForChuma

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Auburn vs North Carolina Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

#DoItForChuma

That became a rallying cry for Auburn fans ever since Okeke went down with a torn ACL on Friday night. He is scheduled to have surgery tomorrow and we’ll see how long it is before he’s back on the court.

It was an absolutely crushing blow to see one of Auburn’s players go down like that, especially when he was on his way to a career night against North Carolina. Okeke was the best player on the floor Friday night, without question. He left the game with 20 points and 11 rebounds and if he doesn’t get hurt, it’s very possible he has at least a 25-15 game. It was a fitting tribute that he was named to the All-Regional Team yesterday along with Bryce Brown and Regional MVP Jared Harper.

In the immediate moment after the injury, I was concerned about how the team would respond. On the first possession after Chuma left the game, UNC hit a 3 to cut the deficit to 11. Horace Spencer made a shot on the other end but Carolina cut the deficit down to 10. That’s when Danjel Purifoy stepped up and hit a trio of 3-pointers to put the game away and help get Auburn into the position they are in today.

But this is not a sad piece about the loss of Chuma, but an appreciation post for him. Let’s face it folks, Auburn is nowhere close to being here without him (and to be fair you can say that about everyone on this team). Every player has played a big part in Auburn’s March success but Okeke was the player that stepped up late in the year and became the player we all knew he was capable of. He has a terrific career ahead of him in the NBA, that’s for sure.

This 12 game winning streak started because of Chuma Okeke. No matter what happens or has happened this month, the play of the year, the play that changed Auburn’s season happened on February 27th at Georgia.

In a tie game with 30 seconds left, Bruce Pearl called a timeout with 3 seconds on the shot clock. Coach Pearl is great at setting up out of bounds plays. Doughty found an open Okeke from behind the 3-point line and the rest is history.

Safe to say, that play got Auburn going.

Chuma had some really good games in this March run. He had 17 points and 14 rebounds in the win at Alabama. This was a big play in that game.

Then in the regular season finale against Tennessee, against the 2-time SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and another 1st-Team All SEC player Admiral Schofield, Chuma may have been the best player on the floor that afternoon, scoring 22 points in a multitude of ways.

Okeke didn’t have the best stats in the first 3 games in Nashville but when Tennessee was the opponent for the title game, we got a masterful performance from #5. Chuma had 18 points and 13 rebounds in the SEC Championship Game.

Okeke had 13 points and 5 rebounds against New Mexico State. Against Kansas, he was outstanding on both sides of the court. Okeke had 12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. We already mentioned the type of game he had against the Tar Heels but simply put, losing Okeke could have been the downfall of this team. Instead, it’s galvanized this team. Another big moment came yesterday when Okeke arrived at the arena at halftime and sat behind the bench in the second half and Overtime.

This definitely sparked the team as Auburn’s energy was much better to start the 2nd half with Bryce Brown getting hot. I can’t even begin to imagine what’s going through Chuma’s mind right now but I know this, we all love you Chuma Okeke. We, the Auburn family, all wish you the best throughout this recovery process and we can’t wait to see you back on the court soon. Whether that be for Auburn or in the NBA, just know you’ve got a fan in me and so many others for life here.

Yesterday, Auburn #DidItForChuma. There’s still more work to be done though. Auburn’s made it this far for the first time ever, so we may as well go and win the whole thing now!

#DoItForChuma #DoItForAuburn

War Eagle!