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'Just keep pushing': Auburn focuses on NCAA Tournament after SEC quarterfinal exit​
Mustapha Heron (5) Auburn men's basketball vs Alabama during SEC Tournament on Friday March 9, 2018, in St. Louis, Mo. Photo by Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics
Mustapha Heron (5) Auburn men's basketball vs Alabama during SEC Tournament on Friday March 9, 2018, in St. Louis, Mo. Photo by Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics
March 9, 2018

Box Score |  Alabama 81, Auburn 63 

By Jeff Shearer

ST. LOUIS - Auburn will turn its attention to Selection Sunday after coming up short Friday in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.

Mustapha Heron scored 18 points and Desean Murray scored 15 and grabbed eight rebounds, but Auburn, the tournament's No. 1 seed as regular season champions, fell to Alabama, 81-63.

"We came out with a lot of energy, hitting shots," Heron said. "In the second half, they hit us in the mouth first. That's something we've got to go back and look at, try to fix it as much as possible."

Paced by Murray's 15 points and seven boards, Auburn led by 10 at the half, 41-31. Jared Harper's 3-pointer gave the Tigers a 10-point lead with 6:55 left in the half.

"Getting Desean back, that was encouraging to see him step up," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. "When you see somebody, in a big game or come tournament time, step up like that, it does give the rest of the team a little bit of courage."

Murray hit a pair of 3s in the final five minutes to maintain Auburn's momentum.

"It was a tale of two halves," Pearl said. "We did what we wanted to do in the first half. We shot it well, which was what we needed to do. We really played well."

Auburn went cold in the second half, shooting 24 percent and misfiring on its first 12 3-point attempts. Collin Sexton scored 31 for Alabama, which outscored the Tigers 50-22 in the half.

Bryce Brown scored 11 for the Tigers. Horace Spencer and Harper each added six rebounds.

"It's a learning experience," Harper said. "When we get to the tournament, everybody is 0-0. It doesn't matter what you did before in the season. Everybody's trying to go for that one goal."

After winning the SEC regular season championship, Auburn (25-7) returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years.

"I have a lot of confidence," Brown said. "I believe in my team a lot. I wouldn't trade them for anything. We've had a great season so far, so we need to just keep pushing into the NCAA Tournament."

"It's great just to make history for Auburn," Harper said. "With all my teammates with all of the hard work we've put in these past couple years."

The Tigers will learn their March Madness destination and first-round opponent Sunday at 5 p.m. on TBS.

"I just want them to get excited about the fact that we're going into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003," Pearl said. "Losing today doesn't take any of the shine off of what this team accomplished. We just weren't able to build on it by winning three games here and winning our next championship."

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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