March 31, 2019 - Kansas City, Missouri
NCAA Tournament Elite 8
For the first time ever, Auburn squared off with Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament with a spot in the Final Four on the line. Auburn went into their 3rd straight game as an underdog and that was magnified even more with Chuma being out. I don’t think many people gave Auburn that much of a chance in this one and after the Cats had defeated Auburn by 27 in their previous matchup, it made sense.
But since that game, Auburn had won 11 in a row and handily defeated Kansas and North Carolina. Kentucky had gotten to this point defeating Abilene Christian and close wins over Wofford and Houston. I watched this game downtown and there was quite a buzz in downtown Auburn getting ready for this one. One of the biggest roars came before the game when CBS showed Malik Dunbar warming up in Chuma Okeke’s jersey. This was awesome!
Early on, it was a struggle for Auburn as Kentucky jumped out a 7-0 start 3 minutes into the game. But it was the bench that got the Tigers started on this afternoon. Danjel Purifoy knocked down a 3-pointer and Austin Wiley scored consecutive baskets to pull within 11-7. The Cats would score the next 6 to take a 10-point lead.
That stayed the same midway through the 1st half as Kentucky led 22-11. Bryce Brown knocked down his first 2 shots to cut Kentucky’s lead down to 6 but each time Auburn went on a mini spurt, Kentucky would regain a 10-point lead..... until the 4 minute mark of the half.
Jared Harper, who was scoreless in the first 16 minutes, converted 4-point play to make it 30-24 Kentucky.
Auburn continued to close the gap thanks to Harper and Anfernee McLemore whose put back dunk pulled the Tigers within 2.
Kentucky hit a 3 in the final seconds of the half to take a 35-30 lead but considering how the first half had played out, I liked where Auburn was sitting. And we knew that Bryce Brown had already had 1 big 2nd half against Kentucky this season and needed another one.
Brown got the offense going with a 3 off a steal from Harper to make it 37-35 Kentucky. After another Kentucky turnover, Brown was fouled shooting a 3. He would make his first 2 free throws but missed the 3rd (the only miss he had of any kind in the 2nd half), but intercepted the pass after PJ Washington tried to save the ball in the corner and did this to give Auburn the lead.
Ian Eagle said it best, “Bryce Brown is smoking hot!”
A lob from Jared Harper to J’Von McCormick for a finger roll layup would put Auburn ahead 42-39.
And then #ClassicMalik showed up on the defensive end and made one of the plays of the tournament, complete with a staredown of Keldon Johnson.
Kentucky would regain the lead but Bryce Brown would take it right back knocking down his 2nd 3-pointer of the half. As I mentioned earlier, Bryce made every shot but one free throw in the 2nd half and many of his shots were some tough shots, including this one to put Auburn back up 3.
Danjel Purifoy would hit his 2nd 3 of the afternoon with 9 minutes to go to put Auburn ahead 54-50 and Wiley’s bucket with 7:10 to go put Auburn ahead 56-50.
There wasn’t much offense in the last 7 minutes of this game from Auburn and Kentucky came back to tie it at 58 with 2:55 to go.
Kentucky would take the lead by 2 with a minute left but on the other end, Jared Harperblew by Tyler Herro for a layup to tie the game back up at 60 with 38 seconds to go. On the other hand, Kentucky had a chance to regain the lead in the closing seconds of regulation but Auburn’s defense wouldn’t allow it.
First, Horace Spencer blocked PJ Washington and then Anfernee McLemore rejected Keldon Johnson and Auburn had a chance to win the game as they got the ball back.
Auburn didn’t call a timeout and got the ball in the hands of a wide open Horace Spencer who attempted a 3 to win for it for Auburn that didn’t go in. Folks, if Horace had hit that 3 to win it for Auburn, the pandemonium, the Cinderella stories would have been absolutely epic. But alas, 5 more minutes of basketball.
In overtime, it was Jared Harper time.
As he did in regulation, Harper blew by Herro for a layup to put Auburn back up by 2 in the first minute of OT.
This next play was absolutely beautiful. Harper caught Ashton Hagans and Purifoy fed him a perfect for a layup to put Auburn up by 4.
Then with a little over 2 minutes left in Overtime, the iron was so kind to Anfernee McLemore.
McLemore would strip the ball on the other end and go coast to coast for a layup to put Auburn ahead 68-62.
After Kentucky made 1-2 from the free throw line, Harper would attack the paint once again and give Auburn a 7-point lead with 1:10 to go.
At that point, if Auburn could make their free throws, they were going to be in good shape. But Kentucky wasn’t done yet.
Harper would hit 4 free throws over the next 45 seconds but Kentucky got hot and PJ Washington’s 3-pointer made it 74-71 with 16.6 seconds left.
Samir Doughty knocked down 1-2 from the line to make it a 2 possession game and Anfernee McLemore would block Kentucky’s shot on the other end setting up 2 more free throws for Jared Harper. Kentucky’s last gasp was no good and folks, the Auburn Tigers were on their way to the Final Four!!!
12 consecutive wins, 3 consecutive bluebloods, Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky. What a journey for this Auburn Basketball team!
Jared Harper had 12 of Auburn’s 17 points in Overtime ad finished with 26 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals. He was also 11-11 from the free throw line.
Bryce Brown had 24 points, including 17 in the 2nd half. He was 6-6 from the field in the 2nd half and 8-12 overall, knocking down 4 3-pointers.
Anfernee McLemore had 8 points, including those 2 huge buckets in OT, and 5 rebounds.
And on defense, despite allowing 28 points and 13 rebounds to PJ Washington, Samir Doughty and company held Tyler Herro to 7 points on 3-11 shooting. Herro had torched the Tigers in Auburn but they didn’t let him on this day in Kansas City.
Here are the highlights!
And one advantage of watching this game downtown.... getting to Toomer’s immediately!
This concludes our look back through the 2018-2019 season and what a journey it was. To Bryce Brown, Jared Harper, Chuma Okeke, Horace Spencer and Malik Dunbar: THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THE MEMORIES!!! What you guys did over the course of 6 weeks from the end of February all the way into April are some of the best times of my life and for so many other Auburn fans.
Beginning tomorrow, we are going to start looking back through last season as we get even closer to starting this upcoming season. I’ll leave you today with one final clip from Auburn’s NCAA Tournament run. War Eagle!