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Keeping that chip: Auburn uses All-SEC snubs as motivation
Jared Harper (left):
Jared Harper (left): "I know I will take all of my teammates over anyone else in this conference or anyone else in the country." Photo: Dakota Sumpter/Auburn Athletics
March 7, 2018

By Greg Ostendorf

AUBURN, Ala. – The SEC postseason awards, as voted on by the league’s coaches, were released Tuesday, and not only did an Auburn player not win conference player of the year, there wasn’t a single Auburn player among the eight players named First-Team All-SEC.

How rare is that? It’s the first time since 1956, when the coaches began voting on an All-SEC team, that the regular-season champions have not had at least one player make the first team.

Bryce Brown would have made sense. The junior guard is No. 8 in the SEC in scoring (16.4 ppg). He scored in double figures in 15 of the 17 conference games he played in. And he led the SEC with 3.3 three-point shots made per game. He’s also one of the league’s better defenders, holding his matchup to 35.6 percent shooting with 86 turnovers through 30 games.

Jared Harper would have been a logical selection, too. The team’s point guard, or “quarterback” as his head coach refers to him, is averaging 13.9 points and 5.7 assists per game. He’s the only SEC player to rank in the top 10 in scoring, assists, free-throw percentage, steals and assist-to-turnover ratio in conference games.

Instead, both Brown and Harper were selected Second Team All-SEC.

The biggest surprise might have been that Mustapha Heron, Auburn’s leading scorer, was omitted completely. The sophomore guard is No. 6 in the SEC, averaging 16.6 points per game, and also pulling down 5.5 rebounds per game.

“Obviously I’m really disappointed for him,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “He outscored 11 of the All-SEC honorees. There were terrific players named. All of them are worthy. All of them are deserving. But he outscored 11 of those guys, he outrebounded nine of those guys, and he out-won 12 of them. From that standpoint, I’m disappointed that he couldn’t make his way onto one of the teams as our leading scorer.

“He’s a guy that has sacrificed a lot. Mustapha has sacrificed a lot so that Jared, Bryce, Desean (Murray) and Chuma (Okeke) could have more. He’s done so willingly so that we could have a chance to be a champion.”

But while Pearl and the players might have been disappointed with the selections considering the season that they’ve had to this point, it’s nothing new. Auburn was picked to finish 9th in the SEC prior to the season. After starting 12-1 in non-conference play, one writer still predicted the Tigers to go 4-14 and league play and finish 16-15.

This team has played the underdog role all season, and the All-SEC selections will only provide further motivation heading into the conference tournament.

“This just keeps that chip on our shoulder,” Brown said. “That is the reason I wasn’t too disappointed that they didn’t pick us first team. They just added fuel to the fire for Mustapha and for me and Jared and for all of my other teammates that were left off. They are going to keep doubting us. Others feel like we should have been higher on the list of 16. Mustapha should have definitely been on there. That is not even a question. That just adds fuel to the fire for us.

“We are just going to keep going hard, keeping that chip on our shoulder. Like I said, it is just beginning right here. I feel like this is going to start something even more special for us.”

“At the end of the day I don’t think anyone’s opinion about us really matters,” added Harper. “It is what we think about ourselves in this locker room. That is most important. I know I will take all of my teammates over anyone else in this conference or anyone else in the country.”

It’s that team-first mentality that helped Auburn win a regular-season title. And maybe the fact that it’s difficult to choose which player on this team is the most valuable on any given night affected how many votes each player received. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the end goal and winning a championship.

“I don’t think any of us would trade any championship for any individual award,” Pearl said. “I just know we wouldn’t.”

The Tigers will return to the court Friday where they will play the winner of the Alabama and Texas A&M in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament.

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



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