SEC Basketball Champs Exemplify “Ever to Conquer Never to Yield”
Auburn players celebrate the SEC championship on March 3, 2018 in the Auburn Areana (photo: Julie Bennett/al.com)
Has there ever been a basketball team that overcame so much to claim an SEC title as the 2018 Auburn Tigers?
Hit before the season with the news of a fired popular assistant coach and the disqualifying of two of its main players, the Preseason Media Poll had the Tigers ranked as finishing ninth in the SEC.
Then injuries left the team with only seven scholarship players as it headed down the home stretch. Yet, the Tigers confounded all those preseason pundits to win their third ever regular season championship Saturday at the Auburn Arena.
If there’s ever been an Auburn team that better exemplifies the line form the Auburn fight song, “Ever to conquer, never to yield,” this writer can’t remember it.
And the Tigers clinched it against a team that has frustrated coach Bruce Pearl since arriving on the Plains. Pearl has lost to the Gamecocks in four of the last five meetings. But, today in front of an intense and raucous home crowd, the Tigers prevailed 79 -70.
Pearl said before the game that his bunch would have to keep the Gamecocks at 70 points or less to have a chance to win, which seemed to be a tall task with Auburn’s best defender Anfernee McLemore out for the season.
The best guard in the league, Jared Harper scored 18 points, Mustapha Heron put up 12, and Horace Spencer had 11 points. But it was this year’s probable SEC Player of the Year, Bryce Brown, who propelled the Tigers to their first title since 1999. Brown led the Tigers with a game-high 29 points, including eight 3-pointers. He finished the regular season as the 36th player in program history to make the list of 1,000-points scored.
“It’s unreal. It’s so unbelievable right now,” said Brown, “Knowing where we came from and where we are now, it just feels unreal. I’m so thankful, I’m so blessed.”
The Tigers (25–6, 13–5) have to share the title with Tennessee, which beat Georgia 66–61 after Auburn won the crown earlier. However, Auburn holds the tie breaker over the Vols, and will be the No. 1 seed next week in the SEC Tournament.
No matter what happens from here on out, Bruce Pearl should be the unquestioned SEC Coach of the Year. He’s the one who kept this team focused despite all the obstacles. He took a team that has not finished in the top half of the league since expansion, a team that was short on height, short on depth, and short on scholarship players and won the Tigers’ first SEC title in 19 years. And no one but Pearl and his players believed it could be done.
“It’s just very humbling to think of how we were counted out,” said Jared Harper. “We’ve all been counted out many times before.” But on this night in their Arena, the Tigers proved they can never be counted out.
Auburn Basketball is champions of the SEC!
Watch Auburn celebrate SEC Championship after the jump.