Observations: Auburn 82, South Carolina 71
The team that led the SEC wire-to-wire led its regular season finale wire-to-wire, and the Tigers are now outright conference champions.
(Matthew Shannon/Auburn Athletics)
Before he ascended the ladder to cut down the net, Bruce Pearl looked over at Auburn basketball director of operations Chad Prewett.
In the midst of the activity on the floor at the newly renamed Neville Arena — photos, FaceTime calls, impromptu autograph sessions and radio interviews — Pearl and one of his longest-tenured staffers took it all in. Pearl then remarked to Prewett that this title-winning feeling was going to stick around for a long time.
“We're happy,” Pearl said later. “I'll be happy tomorrow. I'll be happy in a month about this championship. … It’s historic.”
Auburn already clinched a share of the SEC regular-season title earlier this week when it rallied to knock off Mississippi State in overtime. But that was in front of just a few thousand traveling fans in Starkville, and it didn’t seal a No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament.
That had to be done back on the Plains and in front of The Jungle. And when the final horn sounded on the Tigers’ 82-71 victory over South Carolina, they could finally celebrate the ultimate regular-season accomplishment — an outright title.
In the words of Walker Kessler, Auburn “ain’t sharing that thing.”
“It's all about our players, guys,” Pearl said. “It's all about our players. To be 15-3 in this league says they came to play every night. That is virtually impossible to do when you're dealing with 18- and 19-year-old kids. Our guys came to play every single night. We took no team for granted. We locked in, we grinded. I think the lessons these guys learned, because of their own discipline, is going to serve them well for the rest of their lives.”
Auburn never trailed against South Carolina, which was the perfect way to cap a conference schedule in which the Tigers never fell out of first place. Wire-to-wire, this was the best team in one of the toughest seasons in SEC basketball history.
“That’s why I came here — to win,” Jabari Smith said. “I felt like this school was going to put me in the best position to win a national championship, win the SEC, win all these accolades that we’re trying to get. I’m not surprised at all that we won it. It feels good.
“I just want to keep going.”
Here are five Observations from Auburn’s outright title-clinching win over South Carolina, the Rotation Charts, the Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Day.