January 18th, 2017 - Auburn Arena
Auburn was buzzing on this cold Wednesday night. Star quarterback of the future, savior of the program Jarrett Stidham had arrived on campus (and was sitting in front of me). Charles Barkley was in the building.
Why? What was the big deal, it was a midweek game between two of the worst teams in the SEC? There was the spectacle of Austin Wiley playing in front of a back-from-Christmas student section for the first time, but that wasn’t quite it.
After two failed attempts on the road in CoMo and Rupp Arena, Bruce Pearl was trying once again for his 500th career win as a head coach. With the foundation of the Final Four team in place, tonight was the night.
The game itself was a story Auburn fans know all too well. A well-rounded but three-ball deficient night for the offense, Auburn built multiple double digit leads in this game, and continued to blow said leads. This was a common theme for this team, as the young trio of Harper, Brown, and Heron could go from lighting the world on fire to not being able to shoot their way out of a paper bag in a matter of minutes.
Fortunately, Auburn got strong games out of its big men, with Spencer, Wiley, and McLemore combining for 31 points on 10-17 shooting, 17 rebounds, 7 blocks, and four steals.
When watching the highlights, though, TJ Dunnans was a problem for LSU. He was active on both ends of the court, and Johnny Jones’s team struggled all night boxing him out and keeping him away from the rim.
As the game drew to near its conclusion, LSU cam roaring back. Bryce Brown hit Horace Spencer in transition for a monster dunk to put the lead at six with 20 seconds to go, but the bad guys hit a three with around 10 seconds on the clock to bring it to within three points. Luckily, Ronnie Johnson hit went 1-2 from the charity stripe to seal the victory in the waning seconds.
And with that, the party began!
Here’s to several hundred more, Bruce.