By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. -- There was a point midway through the first half Saturday when it looked as if No. 14 Auburn might not win the SEC regular-season title. The Tigers trailed, 25-11, and were shooting just 13 percent (2 of 15) from the floor.
But you had to know it wasn't going to come easily. Nothing this season has come easily to Auburn, and it was only fitting that the Tigers were forced to rally back and fight off a cold start to eventually beat South Carolina and clinch their first SEC title since 1999. This group has fought off adversity every step of the way, and Saturday's game was no different.
"This team ranks right up there with the best I have had with trusting each other and relying on each other," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. "We get shorthanded when we only have eight. It's been the most resilient, focused, self-motivated team I have ever coached."
Here are three takeaways from Saturday's victory.
1. `I knew it was coming'
It had been a rough couple of weeks for Auburn guard Bryce Brown. Ever since he injured his shoulder against Texas A&M, the long-distance sniper had struggled to find his stroke. He was shooting just 11 of 46 (24 percent) from beyond the arc over his last five games, and he started 0 of 3 from deep on Saturday.
However, with just under five minutes left in the first half, Brown got a 3-point shot to go down, and it was as if there was a lid removed from the basket.
The junior knocked down three more 3-pointers before the half and swung the momentum back into Auburn's favor. It was more of the same in the second half, as he finished 8 of 12 from distance and scored a game-high 29 points to lead the Tigers to victory.
"I knew it was coming," Brown said after the game. "I worked hard this whole week just getting up shots and everything, just finding my shot. We've got the best point guard in the SEC. He trusts me no matter how many shots I miss or no matter how many shots I take, so I appreciate Jared (Harper). I appreciate the coaches. I appreciate my teammates for continuing to look out for me, even though I was having an off game at first."
"Bryce Brown got back to doing what he does," added Pearl. "If he can see it, he can make it."
With his 29 points Saturday, Brown also became the 36th player in program history to reach 1,000 points in his career (1,003).
-- Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) March 3, 2018
2. Controlling the tempo
Auburn is at its best when it can get out and run. That means forcing turnovers, getting out in transition and making shots. In the first half, there was plenty of effort -- the Tigers had nine steals -- but they struggled from the field, especially early, and South Carolina did its best to try and slow the game down.
It was a different story in the second half.
The Tigers started turning those turnovers and missed shots into easy baskets on the other end as they scored 18 of their 20 fast-break points in the second half.
"Every one of those (turnovers) when you play Auburn will be a basket," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. "I don't care how hard you run back. I don't care how hard you try. If you give them 12 steals, then that is at least 24 points. Today, it was 20-0 on fast-break points. We got nothing easy today because all we did was turn it over."
Auburn forced a total of 20 turnovers, which is tied for the most the Tigers have forced in an SEC game this season (at Missouri), and it's the fourth time they have forced at least 20 turnovers in a game this season.
3. Not done yet
In the locker room after Saturday's win, each player got up and spoke about what it meant to win an SEC championship. They all thanked their teammates. They talked about fighting through adversity. But there was another common theme -- they're not done yet. Cutting down the nets was a major accomplishment, but it's only the beginning.
Beginning next week is the SEC Tournament, and then the following week, Auburn will play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.
"Let's chase another one," Malik Dunbar said. "And then let's chase another one."
With Saturday's win, the Tigers clinched the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament, which means they won't play until Friday and will await the winner of Alabama-Texas A&M.
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: