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'You made history' - Auburn celebrates winning SEC title
Bruce Pearl:
Bruce Pearl: "Coaches can help teams win. Individuals can win games. Only families can win championships." Photo: Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics
March 3, 2018

By Greg Ostendorf

AUBURN, Ala. -- Picked to finish 9th in the SEC, Auburn was deemed too small. There wasn't enough depth. It was a team that was lacking star power. Of the nine players who were chosen first-team All-SEC before the season, not one played for Auburn. Only Mustapha Heron was recognized as a second-team selection.

Even after a 12-1 start in the non-conference slate, there were still doubters. One writer picked the Tigers to go 4-14 in league play at that point and finish 16-15 overall.

That made it all the sweeter as the final seconds ticked away and the confetti began streaming down from the rafters at Auburn Arena following Saturday's 79-70 win over South Carolina. It made cutting down the nets that much more special to the players and coaches.

With Saturday's win, Auburn is SEC regular-season champions for the first time since 1999.

"You made history," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl told his team in the locker room after the game. "When you think about the things we talked about when you were recruited -- we talked about doing something that had not been done here for a long, long time. You came here before we were competitive. And you came here together. You pushed each other. You trusted each other. You forgave each other. You tolerated me and the coaches. And as a result, you built a memory that will never be taken from you.

"In 2018, you were the best team in the best conference in this country. The best team. And you won it from the beginning to the end. And the reason why you did it was because you brought it every day. You brought it every day.

"Coaches can help teams win. Individuals can win games. Only families can win championships."

This Auburn basketball team has been the definition of family. They're unselfish. They rely on each other. When Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy were ruled out before the season, they stayed together. When Anfernee McLemore suffered a season-ending injury two weeks ago, they didn't flinch. They stayed strong and rallied for their brother.

After Saturday's win, somebody asked Bryce Brown and Jared Harper which one deserved to be SEC Player of the Year. Their response?

"I'm giving it to Bryce," Harper said.

"I have to give to my boy Jared," Brown responded.

"But we couldn't do it without either one of us," Brown continued. "Either one of us, Mustapha (Heron), Desean (Murray), Anfernee, Horace (Spencer), even Danjel and Austin. We wouldn't be able to do it without any of them. It's a team effort to accomplish what we've accomplished, and our individual success, we couldn't do it without them."

Brown found his range Saturday, making 8 of his 12 three-point attempts, and finished with a game-high 29 points. Harper added 18 points, and more importantly, the sophomore point guard dished out eight assists to just two turnovers.

But like it's been all season, everybody contributed. Spencer finished with 11 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes. Heron struggled from the field but made all 10 of his free throws. For the fourth straight game since McLemore's injury, freshman Chuma Okeke came up big on the glass and pulled down nine tough rebounds that helped the Tigers hang on.

In the locker room, after having a bucket of cold water dumped on him in celebration, Pearl asked his players to look at everybody in the room and say to each other, "I won a championship, and I couldn't have done it without you."

"Who could we have done it without?," Pearl asked his guys.

It's that bond, that chemistry, that next-man-up mentality that has helped Auburn defy the odds all season, and it will continue to carry this team into the SEC Tournament next week and into the NCAA Tournament the week after. It doesn't matter what everybody else is saying, good or bad. All that matters is that this team sticks together and stays humble and hungry.

"As we go forward, we have to stay committed to that vision," senior Patrick Keim told his teammates after the game. "As more success comes and more people talk, we have to stay committed to the vision.

"I'm ready to ride with y'all. I'm ready to show the whole world who we are. So let's keep going."

Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for Follow him on Twitter:



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