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Tip-Off Countdown: #34 Auburn 84 #5 Tennessee 80

When people ask me what is the best basketball game you’ve ever attended, this is it.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

March 9, 2019 - Auburn Arena

Alright, this one is super special to me and allow me to get a little sentimental for a second.

From a personal standpoint, this was my last home game as a student in Auburn Arena. The last chance for me to line up early and wait for hours to go down the stairs that take you to floor level and into the Jungle of Auburn Arena.

I was the first person there that morning, getting in line at 4:30AM for an 11AM tip. Waiting in line for 5 hours seems bad but I’m here to tell you, a lot of people that I still talk to post-Auburn were people that I met in the Jungle and had the same level of passion for Auburn Basketball that I do. I cherish those moments and friendships and memories as my time in the Jungle was the best part of my experience at Auburn.

As for the team, this was the last time we saw Bryce Brown, Jared Harper, Chuma Okeke, Horace Spencer, Malik Dunbar and Cole Blackstock play inside Auburn Arena. I can’t put into words what those guys mean to the Auburn program but they came to Auburn to make history, to bring relevancy to the men’s basketball program and bah gawd, did they do just that!

In their way on Senior Day, was the 5th ranked Tennessee Volunteers, who were looking to earn at least a share of the SEC Regular Season Championship.

Auburn Arena had gotten incredibly loud during my time in Auburn but there were times throughout this game where it was the loudest I’ve ever heard it.

This game was a duel between Chuma Okeke and Tennessee’s Grant Williams. While Williams would start the scoring with a basket on the first possession, Okeke would hit a 3 on Auburn’s first possession.

The shots were falling on both sides early and the pace of this game was also incredible as we went nearly to the under 12 minute mark before we had the game’s first media timeout. Auburn was 4-8 early from 3 with Okeke, Anfernee McLemore, Malik Dunbar and Bryce Brown all making 1 apiece. The Vols led 16-14 with 12:30 to go in the first half.

But Auburn couldn’t slow down Grant Williams or Jordan Bowden who was on fire coming in off the bench. Tennessee surged to a 35-24 lead with 6 minutes to go in the half. Thanks to Okeke though, Auburn was able to hang around as he had 13 1st half points to lead Auburn.

Auburn got within 4 on layup from Jared Harper in the final minute but a questionable blocking foul against Harper in the final 10 seconds sent Auburn Arena into a building full of irate people. Tennessee led 41-35 at halftime after the Williams free throws.

Auburn jumped out of the gate hot in the 2nd half scoring the first 7 of the half. Bryce Brown hit a 3 to get it started and free throws from Dunbar and Brown put the Tigers up 42-41. Tennessee had their own 7-0 run to go back up 6 though.

The lead was 7 for Tennessee with 15 minutes to go when Chuma stepped up once again. He knocked down another 3 pointer and then absolutely picked Admiral Schofield’s pocket and made sure to finish on the other end.

Samir Doughty spent his first season playing in Auburn as role player but man did he make some big shots in this game. The first, coming after Tennessee had gone back up 6 and Doughty hit a shot clock buzzer beating 3 to make it 54-51 Vols. More on the 2nd one later.

The big run for Auburn came midway through the 2nd half and I distinctly remembering being completely out of breathe once we hit the Under 8 Timeout because of all of the action taking place.

We had some #VintageJVon moments in this game with his patented drives to the basket and tough-shot making ability, the first coming with 12 minutes to go and then another that gave Auburn the lead 61-59 with 9:19 to go.

After getting a stop on the other end, Chuma went back to work in the paint getting this pretty layup to go to put the Tigers up by 4.

The teams would continue to throw haymakers and this game was tied at 69 with less than 4 minutes to go. And it was Closer time for the Tigers.

Jared Harper would knock down a 3 with 3:28 to go and then would benefit from some controversy (doesn’t Auburn always benefit from controversy!!!).

It appeared that Jared had missed a 3 and the rebound was tipped in by Anfernee McLemore. But the ruling was a 3-pointer and Auburn was ahead 75-69. I’ll be honest: I thought Anfernee tipped it in and I think a lot of other people did too but “that’s the way it goes” sometimes.

A 3 from Schofield would cut Auburn’s lead in half going into the final 2 minutes.

Now remember earlier I said Samir had a knack for making some big shots? Here’s one of the biggest and my favorite Samir Doughty moment. With less than 90 seconds to go, the Tigers ran clock and with the shot clocking winding down, Jared would drive before getting blocked by Grant Williams. But Williams swatted it right into the hands of an open Doughty behind the 3-point line who calmly knocked it down with 1:14 to go.

After a pair of free throws, Auburn led 80-74 and looked ready to close it out. But.....

A flagrant foul was called on Anfernee McLemore on a hook and hold allowing the Vols to get 2 free throws with 24 seconds to go. On the inbounds pass, Tennessee scored again making it 80-78.

Jared Harper would come down after being fouled and knock down 2 free throws to make it 82-78. Jordan Bone would miss a 3 on the other end and Tennessee would throw it away with 8 seconds left to send Auburn Arena into a frenzy and cueing one final “Party Til We Die” in Auburn Arena for the season. Samir would knock down 2 free throws to ice it and to quote Rod:

“Number Five Goes Down In the Jungle!!!!!!”

Chuma Okeke finished 1 short of his career high with 22 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals and showing a national audience that he was ready for the next level. Jared Harper had 16 points and 8 assists with Bryce Brown also scoring 16 in his final home game, shooting 4-9 from 3. Samir Doughty had 9 points and Anfernee McLemore and J’Von McCormick each added 7 points.

Here are the highlights!

Auburn finished the year winning 4 straight and clinched the #5 seed in the SEC Tournament. And as incredible as these 2 weeks were for Auburn Basketball... this was just the beginning.

War Eagle!