Auburn’s Horace Spencer (0) pulls down a rebound as Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield, right, watches in the first half of the NCAA college basketball Southeastern Conference championship game Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
By Sam Blum | [email protected], AL.COM
Auburn won its first SEC Tournament title in 34 years, after appearing in the title game for the first time in 19 years. They defeated Tennessee, 84-64, a team that will possibly be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It’s the second time in eight days that AU has beaten Tennessee, and second time they prevented the Volunteers from winning an SEC title.
Read below for full reaction from the Auburn championship win.
1. J’Von McCormick saves the day
Jared Harper went to the bench with two fouls just two minutes into the game. It happened four days ago, as well. Then, AU went offense/defense with Harper and J’Von McCormick. This time, they went with McCormick and he didn’t disappoint.
He played 18 incredible minutes in the first half, scoring five points, securing two rebounds and handing out three assists with no turnovers. McCormick hadn’t played 18 minutes in a game all season, let alone a half. Auburn has been public about their desire to have him play around 10-12 minutes per game.
But this game required McCormick to step up.
2. Lengthy defensive stand
Auburn turned is three-point deficit into a 13-point lead in the first half over a span of six minutes and 45 seconds, playing incredible defense for a long period of time. In a slightly more than five-minute span, Auburn forced eight Tennessee turnovers. UT came into the game as the No. 3 most efficient offense in college basketball.
The Tigers scored 21 points off of turnovers. UT only attempted four shots during Auburn’s 16-0 run, incredibly.
3. Chuma Okeke awakens
For as good of a tournament as it’s been for Auburn, Chuma Okeke had been quiet. There was foul trouble. He played well in the second half against Florida, and really woke up in the title game.
The best plays came after UT cut the lead down to seven twice early in the second half. Both times, he responded with big 3-pointers. He hit two more later in the half to put AU up 18, and 22, both largest leads at the time. He finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds on the day.
His second-half stat line: 14 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 16 minutes.
4. Auburn sets another 3-point record
Every 3-pointer Auburn hits the rest of this season will set a new mark for 3-pointers by an SEC team in a season. On Sunday, they hit 15 3-pointers, which was a record for an SEC Tournament final.
Two of the biggest came from Danjel Purifoy, who had a season-high 10 points. He hit two critical 3-pointers in the second half, including one to quiet the rowdy Tennessee crowd after the deficit was cut to 15 points. AU made nine 3-pointers in the second half.
Harper hit the final one with a minute left.
5. What it means
Auburn is officially the hottest team in America. They have won eight in a row, and 10-of-11 games. With their performance in the SEC Tournament, they will be in strong position for a No. 4 seed, possibly better, when the NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed later on Sunday.
AU has won its last five games against Quadrant 1 opponents.
The Tigers did all of this in front of what was basically a home Tennessee crowd. Bruce Pearl spoke yesterday about how AU was no longer just a Top 25 team, they were a Top 25 program. He might very well be right, because AU is beating a whole lot of other Top 25 programs.