basketball Edit

STULTZ: Auburn fans provide loudest roar in Nashville

NASHVILLE | The roar was instant and lasting. Auburn was taking the court prior to the SEC Tournament title game, and it became evident: Bridgestone Arena was no neutral-site crowd. This was The Jungle North.

I-65 North must have been jammed on Sunday morning with all the Auburn fans arriving in Nashville (if they weren't already in the Music City) for Sunday's matchup against Florida for the trophy. It was what the players had asked for the day before, turning a game 300 miles into a home-court advantage.

And my God, Auburn fans answer the call massively.

Neville Arena only seats 9,121, so when almost twice that many fans were up on their feet during every Tiger run, the place was shaking. After Florida cut the lead to a single point in the second half, only to see Auburn go on a 10-0 run capped by a Tre Donaldson three-pointer, you felt for the roof of the building. It was holding on for dear life.

After Kentucky and Tennessee bowed out in the quarterfinals, bartenders and hotel managers in Nashville were probably worried about the lack of business. Those worries were short-term as the Auburn faithful overtook Tennessee's capital city.

This should come as no surprise. This is the norm now. Bruce Pearl has taken a fan base desperate for anything to one that fills opposing arenas on a weekly basis. It's what the fans from Lexington, Lawrence and Chapel Hill have been doing for decades.

But now it is Auburn. Every Dylan Cardwell dunk and clamor for more noise got met. Every shot-clock violation that the Tigers forced was greeted with a deafening roar. And when Auburn went on an 8-0 run to bring the Gator deficit up to 21 with 2:59 on a Cardwell layup, the 18,000-plus in the arena, minus Florida fans, knew that the title was clinched.

And it got louder. And louder. And louder.

Every free throw made? "A-U," rocked the eardrums.

I asked Cardwell, who was amid all the pandemonium on the court, how it felt for Auburn fans to show up in that way.

"Loved, man," he said. "It just makes me love; it makes me feel like we're all a family. We won a championship for them. I was praying all day today. I don't want to let the hell fans down. I don't want the fan to travel all this way and get to see this opportunity. For us to win a championship and be a part of that. It means the world to me."

This team has much more to accomplish, but on Sunday, the SEC and all of college basketball got to witness what this team, this program and what Pearl has built on the Plains.

During his opening press conference after being hired as the new athletic director at Auburn, John Cohen described what "Just Auburn Being Auburn" meant to him. It was different, a positive spin on all of the fantastic things that this university, which so many take pride in, and the athletic programs that it has accomplished in its existence.

Sunday was "Just Auburn Being Auburn." Sunday was showing what this fan base prides itself on. Before the game, I saw a poster with "Neville Stone Arena" written on it. That was apt. And so was it ending with a trophy celebration and confetti falling on the Tigers.

K.D. Johnson, who might be the crowd favorite alongside Cardwell and Chad Baker-Mazara, was asked about the crowd. As usual, he was on point.

"You seen it," he said. "You say the number one fans in the who? You all seen it for itself. So I really ain't got to say too much. (The) Jungle baby. That's it."