For the second straight night, we had an Elite Eight game go into overtime. And for the second straight night, a team punched their first ever ticket to the Final Four.
Auburn, the champs of the SEC and the fifth seed in the South Region, outlasted Kentucky for a historic 77-71 victory. There's sure to be a party tonight at Toomer's Corner.
Bruce Pearl's Tigers are the fourth different SEC team to make a Final Four since 2014, joining Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky. It's the first Final Four trip for Pearl, too, who has been coaching Division I men's college basketball for 15 seasons.
Auburn joins Texas Tech as the two teams appearing in the men's Final Four for the first time this season.
Auburn pulls away in OT
Auburn tied the game up at 60-60 with 37 seconds to play in regulation, by way of a lay-up from Jared Harper. Both teams had a chance to score the go-ahead bucket as the clock dwindled in the fourth quarter, but Kentucky missed a pair of attempts and Auburn misfired on a three-point attempt.
But in overtime, the Tigers were able to pull away and put a comfortable cushion between themselves and the Wildcats.
Harper connected on a pair of lay-ups in extra time, and then assisted on a Anfernee McLemore lay-up. McLemore stole away Kentucky’s next possession and scored on an unassisted lay-up attempt, giving the Tigers a six-point lead with 1:49 to play.
Auburn was able to play smart defense and elude Kentucky defenders for the remainder of the game.
No Okeke, no problem
Auburn played this game without Chuma Okeke, the Tigers’ star sophomore forward who led them in scoring and rebounding with 20 points and 11 boards in an upset Sweet 16 win over North Carolina. But Okeke suffered a torn ACL near the end of that game. Pearl said an MRI revealed the news on Saturday.
In the absence of Okeke, others stepped up.
Harper played the role of hero late. In overtime, he tallied 12 points and an assist. McLemore played a crucial role in crunch time too, scoring four points, stealing a pass and blocking a Kentucky shot attempt with 10 seconds to play.
When the game was over, Harper — a 5-foot-11 junior guard from Marietta, Georgia — had tallied 26 points, four rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks.
Jared Harper is a killer, man.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 31, 2019
Jared Harper. Born without a conscience.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 31, 2019
Little Jared Harper playing like a giant today.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) March 31, 2019
Teammate Bryce Brown scored 24 points, and McLemore finished with eight points, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
THE BRACKET: Print the official 2019 March Madness bracket
Defense big for Auburn
While Auburn has often been led by its three-point shooting expertise this season, it was the Tigers defense that proved to be crucial in this game.
Auburn held Kentucky to 23.8 percent shooting from behind the arc and forced the Wildcats into 14 turnovers. Kentucky didn’t help itself at the free throw line, shooting 57.1 percent there. Auburn tallied 10 steals and seven blocks. Three Wildcats shot worse than 50 percent from the floor.
The Tigers are the first No. 5 seed to make the Final Four since 2010, when a pair of fifth-seeded teams — Michigan State and Butler — made that stage of the Big Dance.
Next up for Auburn is a trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they’ll meet Virginia, the top seed in the East Region.
• Texas Tech: First Final Four in program history.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 31, 2019
• Virginia: First Final Four in 35 years.
• Auburn: First Final Four in program history.
• Duke or Michigan State: First Final Four since 2015.
Two newcomers, an old friend and one elder statesman going to the party.
This is the second time in three years that the Final Four features two first-timers. It was South Carolina and Gonzaga in 2017 and now Texas Tech and Auburn in 2019.— David Worlock (@DavidWorlock) March 31, 2019
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.