March 16, 2018 - San Diego, California
5,467 days, that’s how long it was from Auburn’s last NCAA Tournament game back in 2003 to their next NCAA Tournament game, this one in San Diego.
When I first got to Auburn, playing in the NCAA Tournament was a pipe dream. Today, that dream becomes a reality. Enjoy the moment and regardless of what happens, I LOVE this basketball team. War Eagle!!!!!— Will McLaughlin (@wlmcl) March 16, 2018
I got to Auburn in January 2015, the first year of Bruce Pearl’s time in Auburn. So many people before me had sat through years of futility and deserved a chance to see what we saw on this night in San Diego, the Auburn Tigers playing in March Madness once again.
Auburn was back in their first NCAA Tournament in 15 years and got sent out West as the 4 seed in the Midwest Region. They were paired up with 13th seeded Charleston, winners of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament. Win that game and the Tigers would face either Clemson or New Mexico State (the irony).....
While the 5/12 matchup is usually upset city, all 4 5 seeds advanced while a pair of 4 seeds were bounced in the 1st Round. Auburn was hoping to not be the 3rd 4 seed to go 1 and done.
One thing is for sure: this one wasn’t pretty to watch.
Jared Harper picked up 2 fouls in the games first 2 minutes and sat the rest of the first half. Auburn was 0-13 from 3-point in the 1st half of this one. Fortunately for the Tigers, Charleston wasn’t doing much better. Auburn led 25-18 with 2 minutes left in the half but the Cougars finished the half strong and the game was tied at 25 at halftime.
It took 10 seconds of the second half to rectify the 0-13 start from 3 as Bryce Brown would hit one from the corner to put Auburn up 28-25. Desean Murray would hit Auburn’s 2nd 3 of the night 5 minutes later to put Auburn up 36-30. Following a Charleston 3, consecutive baskets from Malik Dunbar would give the Tigers a 40-33 lead.
Every time it looked like Auburn might get some breathing room, Charleston would respond. A 9-0 run by Charleston midway through the 2nd half would find Auburn down 50-48 with 6 minutes to go.
After a free throw from Horace Spencer, Mustapha Heron would make a big play on defense creating a steal and then a thunderous one hand slam to put Auburn back up 51-50 with 5 minutes to go.
With about 2 minutes to go, Bryce Brown would knock down a 3 from the wing to put Auburn up 56-55. After a Charleston free throw tied it, Jared Harper would come down and hit a deep 3 for his only bucket of the game.
Auburn would withstand a last second charge from Charleston as Bryce Brown was able to get a piece of a 3-point attempt with 5 seconds left that would have tied the game. Jared Harper would be fouled and make 1-2 from the line to seal the game for the Tigers as Auburn was on their way to the Round of 32 with a classic example of “Survive and Advance.”
Folks, when you look up Survive and Advance in the Dictionary, this game is up there at the top.
Auburn won this game despite shooting 5-24 from 3. Mustapha Heron led Auburn with 16 points. Desean Murray had 11 points and 7 rebounds and Bryce Brown scored 10.
Here are the highlights!
And for a deeper dive including radio footage and thoughts from Coach Pearl check this out!
The dream season would come to an end 2 nights later when they took on Clemson but this team overcame so much throughout the season. Auburn finished 26-8 on the season and set themselves up for another run in 2018-2019.
This team was special and they made Basketball really fun in Auburn again. I loved and cherished every second of it.
Tomorrow, we’ll jump right into the 2018-2019 season!