Auburn, Ala (EETV)-
Even though Spring Break is upon the Auburn student body, Auburn Arena was packed to the brim on Saturday as the Tigers welcomed in the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers.
In a matchup that included the SEC co-champions of the last season, Auburn came out slow in the first half as Tennessee turned solid Grant Williams and Jordan Bone production into an 11 point lead with just over four minutes left in the first half. Quick baskets by Chuma Okeke and Jared Harper cut the Volunteer lead to just six as the team headed into the locker room.
Auburn made adjustments in the locker room and came out with a fire that was visible from outside the arena. After being down the majority of the game up until midway through the second half, the Tigers behind the hot hands of Chuma Okeke, Jared Harper, and Bryce Brown fought their way back into it with the Volunteers. Brown got the rally started early in the second half by grabbing a defensive rebound and converting a three-pointer on the other end to spark a 7-0 run that would give the Tigers their first lead at 42-41.
Tennessee would not go down as they would use Grant Williams and his production to build a seven point lead before Okeke would remind everyone in the arena how good he really is. “He took over the game at times against player of the year type people,” Coach Bruce Pearl said. “And none of us were surprised.” Okeke had a three pointer followed by a steal and dunk that got the crowd involved. He would go onto finished with 22 points, five rebounds and four assists.
With just under three minutes to play Jared Harper would hit back to back threes stretching Auburn's lead to six and after a block on a Jared Harper layup, the ball would find its way into the waiting hands of Samir Doughty who would beat the shot clock and would put Auburn up 78-72 with 1:13 left in the game. Harper tallied big numbers finishing with 16 points, eight assists, and three rebounds.
Tennessee did not give up at the end, pulling the score to within two but after Harper converted four straight free throws followed by an Okeke steal, Auburn had clinched their biggest win of the season.
The win was felt around the arena as Bryce Brown raced toward the student section as the buzzer sounded and jumped on the table to celebrate with the fans who came to support. "That was something I planned to do, I wanted to share the moment with the fans. I wanted to share the moment with my parents. A great feeling knocking off a top 5 team on my last game.” Brown would finish with 16 points shooting 4-9 from three and 4-5 from the free throw line adding three rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
The Tigers (22-9, 11-7) clinched the No. 5 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament in Nashville. Auburn will play on Thursday afternoon.
Auburn honored seniors Horace Spencer, Brown, Malik Dunbar and Cole Blackstock before tip-off.
“Very proud of our seniors for how far they’ve come and how much they worked to become competitive,” Pearl said. “Everybody in the country recognizes that Tennessee’s a Final Four team. Everybody in the country now recognizes that Auburn is capable of beating, and in fact did beat, a Final Four team.”