It Feels Good to be in First Place … Auburn Basketball is Fun Again!
After starting the season with a 12–1 record, Auburn basketball received little attention from the national media. That’s changed now that the Tigers (16–1) possess the nation’s longest winning streak and are sitting in first place in the SEC with a 4–0 mark. And as Coach Pearl said Saturday, “It sure does feel good to be in first place.”
The only one loss team in the nation is now getting the respect it deserves as both polls have placed the Tigers in this week’s Top 20. This coming after the Tigers rallied for the fourth consecutive game to upend Mississippi State (13–4, 1–3 SEC) 76–68 Saturday. The No. 17 Tigers are the highest ranked SEC team in the AP Top 25, ahead of No. 18 Kentucky and No. 21 Tennessee.
After double digit wins against Tennessee, Arkansas, and Ole Miss, the Tigers fell behind 35–24 in Starkville in a sluggish first half. However, they made a furious 52-point comeback in the second half led by the hot hand of Bryce Brown. With 2:58 remaining Auburn trailed State 67–65. Then Brown’s long shots took over, and the Tigers pulled away for an eight-point victory.
A large contingent of Auburn fans was on hand to help pull the Tigers through. A fact that demonstrates how Auburn basketball is fun again on the Plains. There’s an excitement around this team that can be felt all over campus. The Ole Miss game saw the largest crowd since Bruce Pearl came to Auburn. And, home court advantage can be huge in basketball.
Sophomore forward Anfernee McLemore said the Arena was so loud against the Rebels that he had trouble calling out ball screens. “I think that just took our play up to another level. It allowed us to play with a great intensity.”
“[It] just means a whole lot to us because it shows us that we’re playing for something other than a title. We’re playing not only for our coaches but for Auburn fans and representing the university as a whole.”
Yes this team is fun to watch. It is a scrappy bunch that has been outmanned in size and, probably, talent in league play yet remains the SEC’s only undefeated team. And for the most part they have done it with great defense, great rebounding, and outstanding shooting at the foul line. The Tigers shot 78 percent from the charity stripe Saturday.
But what’s really so amazing about this team is how it has handled adversity. Despite the controversy that surrounded the start of the season and despite trailing by double digits in big games, they have never hit the panic button and are looking more and more like a team headed toward the NCAA Tournament.
However, with 14 SEC games left on the schedule, it doesn’t get any easier. Nevertheless Auburn basketball is fun again and …
“It sure does feel good to be in first place in the SEC!”
The Tigers will travel to cross-state rival Alabama Wednesday night before returning home to face their oldest rival, Georgia, in the Arena this Saturday. Tip off in Tuscaloosa is set for 6:00 p.m. on the SEC Network.