No. 14 Auburn clinches share of 1st SEC title since 1999

Saturday, March 3, 2018

No. 14 Auburn clinches share of 1st SEC title since 1999

What seemed farfetched just five months ago has now, against all odds, become a reality.

All signs pointed to a potentially lost season for Auburn basketball before the year even started. Then-associate head coach Chuck Person was caught in the undertow of the FBI's investigation into the criminal influence of money on college basketball, arrested on Sept. 26 and charged with bribery and conspiracy. Star players Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy were held out of competition starting Nov. 2 -- before an exhibition loss to Division II Barry -- due to their connections to that same investigation, with Wiley ruled ineligible by the NCAA in January and Purifoy left dangling in limbo all season.

Yet, improbably, the nets will be cut down Saturday afternoon in Auburn Arena. No. 14 Auburn clinched its first league title since 1999 and just the third in program history after beating South Carolina, 79-70, in the teams' regular-season finale.

The win secured Auburn the No. 1 seed in next week's SEC Tournament in St. Louis and at least a share of the league's regular-season crown. The Tigers can win the league outright if Tennessee loses to Georgia tonight.

Rewinding Auburn's SEC-clinching win against South Carolina

Even the Tigers' win Saturday seemed equal parts impressive and improbable, encapsulating a regular-season run that certainly fell under both of those categories.

Auburn, mired in a nearly team-wide shooting slump, struggled to get anything going for much of the first half against South Carolina. The Tigers shot just 13.6 percent (3-of-222) from the field through the game's first 15 minutes, including 0-for-9 from beyond the arc.

Then Bryce Brown, himself sludging through a two-week slump, suddenly found his shot.

Over the final 4:51 of the first half, Brown drilled four consecutive 3-point attempts, helping spur an Auburn run to end the half as the Tigers erased a 14-point deficit to briefly take the lead before going into the break down two, 37-35.

Brown kept it up in the second half, as did Auburn's defense, which finished the game with 20 forced turnovers, including 12 in the first half. After the teams exchanged 6-0 runs to open the half, Brown scored the next eight Auburn points -- draining two more 3-pointers along the way -- to give the Tigers a six-point lead with 14 minutes to go.

He knocked down his seventh 3-pointer of the game with 5:22 to go to give Auburn a nine-point lead, its largest of the game to that point.

Brown finished with 29 points to lead Auburn, eclipsing 1,000 points for his career, draining 8-of-12 3-point attempts. It was his first 20-point game in exactly one month, when he had 25 points against Vanderbilt on Feb. 3.

Jared Harper, who finished with 18 points, scored nine straight points for Auburn late to seal the game, giving the Tigers a 12-point lead on a layup with 1:39 to go that prompted a premature release of orange-and-blue confetti from the rafters and a chant of "S-E-C" from the crowd on hand to watch the exclamation point on this season's dream-like run. will update this post.

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

from Auburn Sports Impact

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