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'A dream come true': Amid fanfare, Auburn departs for March Madness
Bruce Pearl leading the chants on the way to San Diego / Wade Rackley Auburn Athletics
Bruce Pearl leading the chants on the way to San Diego / Wade Rackley Auburn Athletics
March 13, 2018

By Jeff Shearer

AUBURN, Ala. - Bruce Pearl emerged from Auburn Arena, his right arm waving, joining a couple hundred fans in a spirited "War Eagle" yell.

"I've just got one thing to say," Pearl exclaimed Tuesday before boarding a bus that would take the Tigers to Montgomery for their flight to San Diego. "We are two wins away from the Sweet 16! And we're going to do everything we possibly can to make sure you guys have got to go to Omaha, Nebraska."

That would the sight of next week's third round. For Auburn to survive and advance, the Tigers, the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Regional, will need to beat College of Charleston, the No. 13 seed, Friday at 6:27 p.m. CT on truTV, then be victorious on Sunday against the winner of No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 12 New Mexico State.

The Tigers practiced Tuesday before the cross-country journey, a workout that included taking charges and other contact drills Pearl had jettisoned after Anfernee McLemore's season-ending injury left Auburn with an eight-man rotation.

"Because we're not playing well enough going into this tournament to win right now. We're not," Pearl explained. "We have got to get some things established in practice. We've just got to take the risk, at this point, that it gets to seven guys because we're not good enough right now playing the way we're playing to go win a game in the tournament, and I think today's practice could help fix that."

After winning the SEC regular season championship, Auburn (25-7) returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.

College of Charleston's trio of Grant Riley, Joe Chealey and Jarrell Brantley each average 17 or more points. Chealey has a knack for getting to the free-throw line, where he shoots 86.1 percent.

"He's smart in the sense that he'll kick his legs out when he shoots a 3-ball," Pearl said. "A little bit like Jared [Harper], he acts like he's getting assaulted all the time. He is a terrific player, smart player, fifth-year senior. We've got to guard without fouling. They've got some tendencies we've got to understand and play by. They're really good from free and they're really good from 3, like us."

For the Tigers, especially upperclassmen like junior Horace Spencer, participating in March Madness culminates years of hard work.

"It's like a dream come true because every kid wants to go to the NCAA Tournament if they play basketball growing up," Spencer said.

The 2,000-mile journey represents Auburn's second longest road trip this season. Last summer, Auburn traveled to Italy for preseason competition, an excursion that bonded the team and set the stage for a conference title.

"Italy made the culture for our team to be more of a family," Spencer said. "All we did was spend time with each other. We just stuck together, stayed together and it built the foundation to be a family."

NCAA Tournament Info

Ticket Info

Click HERE to purchase tickets directly through StubHub.

Tiger Walk

Sunday, March 18, 1:15 p.m. PST
Team Hotel - Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego (West Entrance facing Cheesecake Factory)
1 Market Place
San Diego, CA 92101


Follow the Tigers with the Tournament Central page at, presented by Ford.

Watch Party

The Auburn Family is invited to attend the official watch party location of Auburn Basketball in Auburn on Sunday, March 18 at Baumhower's Victory Grille at 6:00 pm CST.

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



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