The joys of making Auburn history
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The "SEC! SEC! SEC!" chants began to fill the Sprint Center.
Bryce Brown, during a last-minute North Carolina free throw, walked toward the sideline and looked at the Auburn section of the arena. He raised his arms and yelled, "Yeah! Yeah!" Horace Spener and Malik Dunbar and Danjel Purifoy and J'Von McCormick began their usual sideline dancing antics as Auburn's walk-ons checked in to close out a Sweet 16 game against the top-seeded Tar Heels.
The clock struck zero. Auburn flooded the court.
Dunbar sought out his mother in the crowd and conveyed a clear message.
"I told you!" he shouted. "I told you!"
Few envisioned this Auburn basketball team knocking off one of the best teams in America. Even fewer saw it happening the way it happened — a 17-point second-half throttling despite losing Chuma Okeke with 8:08 to play. The people who know these Auburn players best even had their doubts about what these Tigers could accomplish.
Dunbar wanted to set the record straight.
"A lot of people from home called me up and just said we were going to lose. They bet against us," Dunbar said. "My mama was over there, and I'd just told her we weren't going to lose. I was just letting her know, 'I told you. I told you we weren't going to lose.'"
He was right.
Auburn cruised to a 97-80 victory. The Tigers advanced to their second Elite Eight in program history. Things like this don't happen to Auburn basketball. Yet, there they were, storming the floor against the bluest of blue bloods.
"I am thrilled for Auburn. I'm thrilled for Auburn," Bruce Pearl said. "This is Auburn's second time going to an Elite Eight in their history. They are loving it right now on our campus. ... When North Carolina goes to 28 Elite Eights, and Auburn only goes to one, it is not a problem to take a backseat to Carolina basketball. But Auburn University, as a school, is one of the better public institutions in the South. It doesn't take a back seat to anyone."
Back-to-back games Auburn didn't just beat top historic programs — the Tigers dominated.
When everyone expected the Jayhawks or the Tar Heels to punch the Tigers, it was Auburn who went on the attack. At times, Auburn has downplayed how much extra juice there is beating a program of North Carolina or Kansas caliber. Pearl didn't shy from the historic nature of Auburn's accomplishment after the Sweet 16 win.
"Well because I've got so much respect for Kansas and Bill Self and North Carolina and Roy Williams, it means a great deal," Pearl said. "No matter what business you're in, if you've got the opportunity to compete against a worthy opponent, someone you've got such respect for, and be able to because the game of basketball can be a real beautiful thing to watch, it's just very gratifying that Auburn, Kansas and North Carolina could've been in the same arena, and we were able to compete so well."
The road isn't complete yet.
Auburn, as always, wants more.
The Tigers will get exactly that Sunday at 1:20 p.m. CT when they get their third shot at the Kentucky Wildcats, a season-long thorn in their side. It's also the team who humiliatingly defeated them at the end of February and sparked this 11-game run in March.
Another blueblood, another day.
It's a way of life in Auburn basketball now. And the Tigers plan to go out on top.
"Unbelievable. Amazing. It doesn't even seem real yet. Knocking off UNC by almost 20 points. I don't know if there's another team that can do that besides us. That's just how it felt the last 10 games. Everything is just clicking. That's when you want to be playing your best basketball," Bryce Brown said. "Beating all the blueblood teams, that would mean a lot. I promised my fans we were going to go out with a bang. Beating those three schools would mean a lot to me. It would mean so much. I just want to continue to win and advance."