Auburn Advances To Elite Eight With Defeat Of No. 1 Seed North Carolina
Auburn teammates celebrate dominant win over North Carolina in Sweet 16. (photo: Jay Biggerstaff, USA TODAY Sports)
Just about every pundit predicted Auburn would lose to No. 1 seed North Carolina in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament. And with good reason: Carolina is a tall, physical team that’s been runner up five times, won six national championships, and been to 36 Elite Eights.
However, not only did the Tigers defy those predictions, they came close to hanging 100 points on the Tar Heels (97–80). It was the first time in NCAA Tournament history that a team beat both blue bloods Kansas and North Carolina in back-to-back fashion. The win also propels the Tigers into the Elite Eight for the first time in 33 years.
“I think it’s another statement that we’re making that our kids play pretty basketball,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “I think it says a lot about the SEC. We’re probably the fourth best team in the league, and yet, here we are.”
Auburn beat the Heels at their own game, playing fast, scoring points off transition, and hitting 3 pointers. Carolina finished with just six fast-break points to 15 for Auburn. The Tigers were great above the arc, scoring 17 three pointers.
Key to the victory were the contributions from the bench, especially by Danjel Purifoy for Chuma Okeke. The sophomore forward went down in the second half with an apparently serious knee injury and didn’t return to the game. Before the injury, Okeke had a double double with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
An emotional Bruce Pearl said afterwards, “We have a heavy heart because we lost one of our brothers … [But] I’m really proud of our team, we were able to make history. We do not drop off when we go to our bench, and we’ll be ready for whoever we play on Sunday.”
The Tigers will be playing Sunday for one of the spots in the Final Four against conference foe Kentucky for the third time this year. The game will be broadcast by CBS and will tip off at 1:20 CT. War Eagle and …
Beat the Cats!