Bruce Pearl has a hug for KT Harell after Auburn advances in the SEC Tournament
By Charles Goldberg
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It was just how they drew it up.
No really, it was how they drew it up.
Bruce Pearl's plan for Auburn's dramatic 73-70 overtime win over LSU in the Southeastern Conference Tournament went something like this: Call timeout with six seconds left in regulation, run a play to free KT Harrell for one last shot, tell him to hit the 3-pointer just before the buzzer to force overtime, win the game in the extra period.
Pearl told his players they could do all of that, and they did.
"Everybody in March is looking for Cinderella stories, and for us to be playing in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament is special," Pearl said. "The lesson to be learned is don't quit, don't give up. The kids kept believing in themselves, believing in me and my coaching staff and might have finished this season and not won a game and not been rewarded. But they just stayed together."
Unlikely Auburn, which won four SEC games all season, has now beaten three league teams in three days in Bridgestone Arena to advance to a tournament semifinal game against No. 1 and 32-0 Kentucky at noon Saturday.
That will be another tall order for the Tigers. But, at least for a little while Friday, Auburn was thinking of this tournament run.
"We're just trying to get Auburn relevant, for us to be a factor," Pearl said. "The way our kids play hard, the way they don't quit, and the way they believe in each other, they're making some history."
"We're giving it back to Auburn," said guard Malcolm Canada said. "That's all that matters."
The surprising and underdog Tigers, winning three games in a row for only the second time this season, improved to 15-19 overall after knocking off Mississippi State, Texas A&M and LSU in three tournament days. LSU fell to 22-10.
Guard Malcolm Canada remembered how the Tigers stayed alive in the final seconds of regulation Friday and what Pearl said in the final timeout leading up to Harrell's dramatics.
"'We're fine. We're fine. We're fine.' He kept saying 'we're fine.' He drew up a play, and said we're going to get it here, and KT is going to knock it down.
"Exactly how it was designed. Exactly."
"I got a clean shot and knocked it down," Harrell said. "My teammates just believed in me."
Harrell hit the 3-pointer, officially with two seconds left on his way to 29 points. He scored all 11 of Auburn's points in the final 2½ minutes of regulation. He scored four of Auburn's nine points in overtime.
Not bad for a guy who led the SEC in scoring, but was left off the coaches' nine-person All-SEC first team.
"I can promise you, KT taking Auburn to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament means more to him to being first- or second-team All-SEC," Pearl said.
"Nobody," Harrell said, "expected us to be here."
The game was tense before Harrell's dramatics. LSU led 28-24 at halftime, but Jordon Granger hit two 3-pointers coming out allowing Auburn to stay close, at 34-32, with 16 minutes remaining. A Harrell 3-pointer made it a 2-point game again, at 37-35, with 15 minutes left.
Harrell played on, but Granger's game was just about over. He was ejected for throwing a punch at Jordan Mickey, hardly what Auburn needed on a team already short on players. He can't play Saturday, either.
Both Granger and Mickey received technicals on the play and, after free throws, LSU was up 44-38 with 13:48 remaining.
Then, like in the win over Texas A&M, Auburn was suddenly a player, tied at 48-48. But LSU didn't go away, going up by eight points with only two minutes and 45 seconds remaining.
That didn't hold.
Auburn began the game with cold shooting for the second straight game, and that was demonstrated when LSU's Keith Hornsby and Auburn each had 14 points as the first half meandered along. Auburn was down to 22 percent shooting at one point.
But the Tigers were a different team down the stretch, and now find themselves in a matchup with mighty Kentucky.
"One day at a time, baby," Canada said.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine