Today, we continue our series about A March to Remember on the Plains. Yesterday, we kicked off the series looking back at Auburn’s 4 Regular Season wins to close out the season. Auburn went from the 8/9 game in the SEC tournament all the way up to finishing in a tie for 4th in the SEC. They lost the tiebreaker to South Carolina which meant Auburn had to start their SEC Tournament on Thursday afternoon instead of Friday. To be fair, at the time, I didn’t think that was a bad thing because it allowed Auburn to play one of the lower-tier teams in the SEC to get their feet wet inside Bridgestone Arena. Auburn was slated to face the winner of Missouri-Georgia in their first game. Honestly, I preferred playing Missouri because Auburn had already played Georgia twice and the previous game was a little too close for comfort for me. I got what I wanted when the Tigers beat the Bulldogs Wednesday evening but Missouri gave Auburn all they wanted and much more.
March 14th - Auburn Beats Missouri 81-71
Missouri came into this game with nothing to lose: it was win or go home for them. It was the final time that Jordan Geist would suit up for Mizzou who came into this game off a career high 30 point outing. He wasn’t ready for his career to end and he along with Torrence Watson kept Mizzou in this game throughout scoring 25 and 20 points respectively.
Auburn led 32-30 at halftime. Bryce Brown and Jared Harper were both held scoreless in the first half. But Auburn, in a recurring theme throughout March, got contributions from other guys. Horace Spencer played one of his best games of his Auburn career in this one. He finished the game with 11 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 blocks.
Malik Dunbar added 11 points for the Tigers and gave us all another highlight reel dunk for all to enjoy. Notice the multiple Missouri players that made “business decisions” to get out of Malik’s way so that we could all enjoy a #ClassicMalik moment.
As soon as I saw the 2 defenders bite on the shot fake, you knew what was next..... pic.twitter.com/sP7qE7iRgL— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) March 14, 2019
This game was also a sign of things to come for J’Von McCormick who played some big minutes at the point in the 1st half scoring all of his 6 points in the game as Harper got off to a slow start in the SEC Tournament.
Bryce Brown got going in the 2nd half scoring all 17 of his points in the 2nd half. He hit 3s on 3 straight possessions early in the 2nd half to give Auburn a 10 point lead. Missouri never quit and continued to push Auburn throughout. I wanted to share my favorite play from this game and that was created by Danjel Purifoy. Purifoy waited all year for the opportunity to contribute on this team and he, like everyone, came up big for the Tigers.
My favorite segment from today’s game. Danjel Purifoy was big for Auburn today. Here he comes up with 2 offensive rebounds and the 3rd times the charm as Bryce hits an open 3. pic.twitter.com/8gh6KYdRIK— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) March 14, 2019
This game epitomized a team as each player that played scored at least 5 points. Jared Harper didn’t score until there were 3 minutes left but his first points were significant.
Despite not scoring all day, when Auburn needs a basket from Jared Harper, they get it. Auburn got contributions from all 9 guys today and that’s the reason they’re playing tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/vodrVQGP6h— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) March 14, 2019
As we have learned, the toughest game to win in a tournament is the first one and we saw that in this game. With the win, Auburn would move on to a matchup in the Quarterfinals with South Carolina.
March 15th - Auburn Beats South Carolina 73-64
The regular season matchup left me fuming because of how the game ended with a no foul call on a 3-point attempt where clearly there was a foul. That game was the difference in Auburn missing out on the double bye. They also got destroyed by Chris Silva in that game and Silva would feast on Auburn again (scoring 27 points). But this game wasn’t in Columbia which obviously boded well for the Tigers considering how the previous 2 games in Columbia had gone for Auburn.
He only played 3 minutes but Austin Wiley returned for Auburn and gave the Tigers a spark. Bruce picked his spot perfectly with about 8 minutes left in the first half as Auburn’s offense was in a funk and down by 6. He made a layup and the offense began to respond. The game was tied at 36 at halftime. The 2nd half was the Jared Harper/Bryce Brown show. They scored the team’s first 21 points of the half over the first 12:30 of the 2nd half. Danjel Purifoy hit a 3 and Horace Spencer also hit a 3 to put the Tigers up 7.
“Spencer Says Sure, Ohhh My!!” pic.twitter.com/OIdwG2lyU3— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) April 11, 2019
Chuma Okeke got in foul trouble early and spent a significant amount of time on the bench. He had just 4 points in this one but this was the nail in South Carolina’s coffin to send Auburn to the semifinals.
Chuma says night night South Carolina. pic.twitter.com/0LfUEnodDc— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) April 11, 2019
Harper ended the game with 27 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds while Bryce Brown had 19 points.
March 16th - Auburn Beats Florida 65-62
Auburn got a break, per se, when top seed LSU was knocked off after a last second 3 from Florida’s Andrew Nembhard. This win got Florida into the tournament and were looking for more as they faced Auburn in the Semifinals of the SEC Tournament. Auburn looked to take advantage of LSU’s loss and put themselves in the SEC Championship for the first time since 2000. Florida shot 60.5% from the field for the game. Usually that means you win the game. The game started slow for Auburn as Florida built a 19-10 lead 10 minutes in but once again J’Von McCormick came up big. His 3 was the beginning of a 12-0 as Jared Harper would then hit 3 consecutive 3-pointers to give Auburn the lead. During this run, Danjel Purifoy got a loose ball rebound and a steal as his defense continued to improve throughout the year along with getting offensive rebounds as we highlighted from the Missouri game.
I’m going to miss Jared Harper. pic.twitter.com/Lor2QRjcDl— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) April 11, 2019
Despite the run, Florida led 34-30 at halftime. The teams went back and forth and once again, Bruce Pearl brilliantly picked the spot to insert Wiley and he made an instant impact. He made a dunk on his first touch and then this great sequence.
This was a fun sequence. A Chuma 3 set up by Wiley, a steal, a 4 on 1 and they “settle” for a 3 from Doughty who made so many big ones this season. pic.twitter.com/jXqejiDYWq— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) April 11, 2019
Auburn would go up by 8 in this game with 6 minutes left but Florida kept responding. It was a 1 point in the final minute when Jared Harper does what he does and takes matters into his own hands.
Jared Harper: ONIONS!!!! pic.twitter.com/H1sGRX4yOo— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) April 11, 2019
That proved to be the game winner as Auburn held on for dear life in the final seconds to win by 3. Tennessee knocked off Kentucky in an outstanding basketball game to set up another Auburn-Tennessee matchup.
March 17th - Auburn Beats Tennessee 84-64
Going into this game, Auburn had played an extra 40 minutes compared to Tennessee. But the Vols seemed to believe that beating Kentucky was their SEC Championship. That game took a lot out of Tennessee and it showed. To think that a win by Tennessee would have given them a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament makes what happened on this Sunday afternoon in March even more special. And the notion that Tennessee wasn’t motivated to play this game (as I’ve said before) is a load of garbage and a horrible take that many national media members used as an excuse for Tennessee. Auburn simply wanted it more, yes, but you can’t tell me that Tennessee wasn’t out for revenge after Auburn had cost them an SEC Regular Season Championship 8 days earlier.
This game didn’t start off well for Auburn. Jared Harper picked up 2 fouls in the first 2 minutes and had to sit on the bench for the rest of the half. Tennessee started the game off shooting the ball fairly well and led 17-13 after a highly competitive 10 minutes. Auburn’s defense took over the game and this play from Malik Dunbar was the start of an 18-1 run for Auburn. Just some good ole #ClassicMalik if you ask me.
Tennessee didn’t score for about 7 minutes and Auburn took advantage on both ends of the court. Here’s a few of the highlights from the run.
Danjel Purifoy’s defense leads to J’Von McCormick offense. So excited to see what these 2 do next year. pic.twitter.com/JoCyHfrJrN— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) April 12, 2019
More great defense and the understanding that 3 > 2. pic.twitter.com/mVSL8xlRPG— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) April 12, 2019
Auburn led 32-23 at halftime. And then Chuma Okeke took over in the 2nd half. Chuma came out and hit consecutive 3s as Tennessee cut the lead down to 7 twice. Okeke’s 2nd 3 would start a 15-2 run for Auburn, highlighted by this.
Chuma O-Three-Ke and then the signature play of the SEC Tournament, a block and transition 3 to put Auburn up 21!!!! pic.twitter.com/vlUxnNo7Ou— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) April 12, 2019
Grant Williams tried to get Tennessee back in the game but Auburn kept knocking down 3s to break their hearts.
Tennessee cut the lead down to 15 twice but Bryce and Danjel were having none of that. pic.twitter.com/6nYzrAj8Pz— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) April 12, 2019
In the end, Auburn was able to hang on and win their 1st SEC Tournament Championship since 1985!
The moment Auburn officially got themselves a banner. War Eagle! pic.twitter.com/KltJQoJzrA— Will McLaughlin (@ShootyHoopsWill) April 12, 2019
Auburn did what only one team had done before: win 4 games in 4 days to win the SEC Tournament. That one team? The 1985 Auburn team.
So what’s next for Auburn? Auburn improved their seed line in the NCAA Tournament but were given a 5 seed in the Midwest Region and sent out to Salt Lake City for a Thursday morning tipoff. That was a bit disappointing as winning the SEC Tournament didn’t seem to make much of a difference. But once again, this was motivation for Auburn. How would Auburn respond? Come back Monday for Part 3 of this series to relieve Auburn’s NCAA Tournament run. War Eagle!