Summer 2018 - Articles

March Madness and a Championship Season on the Plains

By June 7, 2018 No Comments
March Madness and a Championship Season on the Plains

Auburn’s 2017-2018 basketball season marked the most successful and historic season in decades on The Plains. The Tigers won 10 of its first 11 games to open the season, including a third-place finish in the Charleston Classic.

On Dec. 23, Auburn hosted perennial-power UConn, and started to show the country they were for real. Auburn led by as many as 36 points in the second half versus UConn, en route to an 89-64 victory.

Auburn closed non-conference play 12-1, and traveled to No. 23 Tennessee for its first SEC game. The Tigers overcame an early 14-point deficit and won their first game in Knoxville since 1998, beating the Volunteers 94-84.

The Tigers continued their unbeaten run inside Auburn Arena, defeating No. 22 Arkansas 88-77. The win, which came four days after the win over Tennessee, marked Auburn’s first time since 1958 to defeat back-to-back ranked SEC opponents.

Auburn would go on to win a pair of games over Ole Miss and Mississippi State, which gave the Tigers 14 wins in a row, the nation’s longest active-winning streak at the time. Auburn continued to win in the SEC, and subsequently continued to climb in the rankings.

On. Jan. 8, the Tigers entered the AP poll for the first time since 2003. Auburn would climb to as high as No. 8 in the country, and began to eye its first SEC title since 1999 as the season progressed. A second-consecutive win over Kentucky in Auburn moved the Tigers to 23-3 and 11-2 in the conference. The Tigers held a two-game lead in the SEC with five games to go.

After a disappointing loss at South Carolina, Auburn returned home to host Alabama, who had knocked off Auburn 76-71 earlier in the season. Auburn flattened Alabama with a convincing 90-71 victory behind Jared Harper’s 21 points and Bryce Brown’s 18.

After a pair of losses at Florida and at Arkansas, Auburn had one final opportunity to clinch a share of the SEC championship as it hosted South Carolina. The Tigers would not let the opportunity slip, as they defeated the Gamecocks 79-70. The confetti fell and the nets were cut; the Tigers were SEC Champions for the first time since 1999. Auburn would go on to make its first NCAA Tournament since 2003, entering as a four-seed against 13-seed College of Charleston.

The first-round matchup was back-and-forth throughout, but Jared Harper’s three with 1:17 left put Auburn ahead for good. The Tigers won 62-58 and secured a date against Clemson in the second round. Clemson was dominant from the tip, and rolled past Auburn 84-53.

“This is where we want our program,” Pearl said after the NCAA Tournament loss. “I have no seniors. I feel good about the foundation of our program. These kids have been amazing all season long. This doesn’t take away from the championship season.”

With talent returning across the court next season, it could be another fun basketball season on The Plains.

by Will Sahlie ’19