January 2, 2018 - Knoxville, Tennessee
Alright, let’s set the stage for you here. It was rough first day and a half to start 2018. Auburn lost to UCF in the Peach Bowl (gross). Alabama and Georgia won their playoff semifinal football games (even worse). Kerryon Johnson declared for the NFL draft (expected but still a bummer). Now it was officially basketball season and well, Auburn had finished the non-conference schedule at 12-1. Great, but who had they played? Auburn’s best win was probably Middle Tennessee but a 200 SOS was not a good way to go into January. How are they going to handle playing without Wiley and Purifoy? The NCAA continued to drag their feet on making a determination of both players eligibility. Surely this team will regress once SEC play hits with the lack of depth and missing 2 of their best players. There were a lot of questions and even more doubts about this basketball team. Remember the 4-14 prediction?
@AuburnMBB HC @coachbrucepearl has a motivational gem for his Tigers tonight as they open @SEC play. One expert picked them to go 4-14 in league play.... tonight at @Vol_Hoops @ESPNU 7p ET @debbieantonelli pic.twitter.com/1LuzgzrBQd— Rich Hollenberg (@RichOnSports) January 2, 2018
And if you want to see where this came from:
Why Georgetown, Oklahoma State and other hot college hoops teams are set up to stumble in league play. https://t.co/jhVDcU4e9S— Kyle Boone (@Kyle__Boone) December 27, 2017
For me personally, this game was a litmus test. As Auburn continued to receive votes in the Top 25 poll, they sat I want to say 4-5 teams away from being ranked in the Top 25. On the schedule that week, was this game at Tennessee followed by another Top 25 opponent in Arkansas at home. But first, the trip to Rocky Top where Auburn hadn’t won in almost 20 years (nearly to the day).
It did not start well for Auburn and the Tigers faced a ton of adversity in this one.
Through the first 10 minutes, the Vols had built a 28-14 lead. Desean Murray was in foul trouble and TV Teddy was doing his usual thing. But the second 10 minutes of the first half was all Tigers.
Murray would get it started with 5 points in a row before picking up his 3rd foul of the 1st half. Horace Spencer would pick up his teammate with buckets on the two ensuing possessions following Murray’s 3rd foul. In a blink of an eye, a Heron fast break layup and a Bryce Brown 3 and Auburn had gone on a 14-2 run to make it 30-28 Tennessee with 6 minutes left in the half. A bucket from Chuma Okeke would get it tied up a minute later and a Bryce Brown with 4:40 to go would put Auburn in front for the first time since the opening moments of the game.
Horace would continue to be a beast in the paint coming down the stretch of the half with an electrifying dunk of his own to boot.
and Mustapha Heron would end the half on a high note with an electrifying dunk in the half’s final minute. Auburn, who had trailed by 14 midway through the 1st half, went +20 over the last 10 minutes of the first half and led 42-36 at halftime.
The second half was a seesaw as the lead traded sides on several occasions over the first 11 minutes of the half. With 9 minutes to go, Tennessee led 59-54. Auburn would come back in the next 2 minutes to take a 62-61 lead but more adversity struck with Jared Harper leaving the game with an injury.
One of my favorite plays from this game came in the next sequence. I don’t know about you but I would also get out of the way if Mustapha Heron was coming down the lane to dunk the basketball.
Here’s a throwback!!!! This is the game you’ll see featured tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/haUrNPjdSL— Jaylin Williams Fan Account (@ShootyHoopsWill) September 7, 2020
Next, Auburn started to take over from 3-point land. First, a loose ball and offensive rebound led to a Bryce Brown 3 to give the Tigers a 69-65 lead. After a Vols 3-point play, Chuma Okeke would respond with a 3 of his own to give Auburn a 72-68 lead with 5 minutes to go. On the next Auburn possession, Auburn would miss a 3 but Anfernee McLemore would grab another offensive board, give it to Chuma who knocked down another 3. Timeout Tennessee with Auburn up 75-68.
A bucket by Davion Mitchell and another 3, this time from Bryce Brown put Auburn up 80-68 with 4 minutes to go. Keep in mind, all of this happened with Harper on the sidelines as Davion Mitchell played big minutes in this one for Auburn.
With 2:02 to go, Jared Harper would return and set up Chuma one more time for the dagger, another 3-pointer to put Auburn up 85-75 with 1:41 left. Free throws from Jared Harper would seal the deal and Auburn had their signature/statement/program-changing win.
Auburn basketball beats its first ranked team on the road in 11 years and beats Tennessee in Knoxville for the first time in 20 years.— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) January 3, 2018
This was a total team effort with contributions from everyone. Bryce Brown and Jared Harper led Auburn with 18 points each. Mustapha Heron had 16 points. Chuma Okeke had 11 points, with the vast majority of his scoring coming late on the 3 made 3-pointers, with 10 points and 9 rebounds coming from Horace Spencer.
And for one Auburn manager who’s a native Tennessean, a good friend of the website and yours truly, the night was most certainly a dream come true for him:
Let’s get to the highlights! (I wish we had Rod and Sonny’s call here but this will have to do).
Up next, the Tigers would host an Arkansas team and the winner would find themselves in the Top 25 of the following week’s poll.