NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Auburn won the 2019 SEC tournament in blowout fashion over the Tennessee Volunteers.
The Tigers swept through the SEC tournament with wins over Missouri, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee on the way to hoisting the trophy Sunday afternoon.
“I’m happy for our team, our university,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “The championship means so much because it might have been the best year the SEC has had in how many years? And Auburn is its tournament champion? That says a lot about these guys, our coaching staff, and the program.”
This is the first time since 1985 Auburn has won the SEC tournament. Last season the Tigers shared the regular season championship with the Volunteers.
The defense was stingy in the first half of the title game, forcing 10 turnovers and holding Tennessee to just 23 points. And the defense turned to offense in the second half when the 3s started falling. Auburn made 10 of 20 shots from beyond the arc in the final 20 minutes, and the lead grew to as many as 23 at one point. It never dipped below 15 after that.
Bryce Brown and Chuma Okeke led the way with 19 and 18 points respectively.
Brown, the tournament MVP, set the record for most 3-pointers in an SEC tournament (18) after knocking down five triples in Sunday’s final. The senior scored in double figures in all four of Auburn’s games this week and averaged 16.5 points per game for the tournament.
“It means so much,” Brown said. “First off, it’s a blessing from the man upstairs. He’s blessed us in so many ways. Even when we didn’t see light at the end of the tunnel, he gave us that light at the end of the day. We still have a lot more to prove, a lot more to accomplish as a team.”
Okeke caught fire in the second half as he scored 14 of his 18 points after halftime. The sophomore big man also pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds and helped hold Tennessee’s two stars, Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, to a combined 17 points. It was a breakout performance from Okeke, who had struggled the first three games.
“Chuma is a pro,” Pearl said. “He’s such a versatile player. People don’t recognize. He’s the best defensive player in our league. It’s not a knock to anybody else, but Chuma is always in the right places. He can cover anybody. He’s patient. He does what’s required of him. He’s a great, great teammate.”
Later Sunday, teams were given bids to the NCAA Tournament. Auburn, after cutting down the nets in Nashville, was awarded a 5 seed in the 68-team tournament. The Tigers will face 12-seed New Mexico State on Thursday.
“I know their coach. I know he’s a Wichita State disciple. One of his very best friends is a former assistant of mine. Sometimes information has a way of passing, but that’s OK. We’ll all learn a lot about each other. I just know he’s a terrific coach,” said Pearl. “We got a chance to see them last year when we were in San Diego. He does a terrific job. His kids play really hard. They’ve always been very athletic.”
Auburn’s draw places the team in a tough region. If Auburn takes care of business versus New Mexico State it will most likely have to face three of the top-winning programs in NCAA basketball history – Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky.