Auburn?clinched its first regular-season SEC title in men’s basketball since 1999 on Saturday, and head coach Bruce Pearl didn’t want to celebrate the moment without saluting the program’s alums.
“There’s guys like Charles Barkley right now … who is celebrating this victory,” Pearl said of the NBA Hall of Famer, who played for Auburn from 1981 to 1984. “That was for you, Charles, and a lot of those guys who wore this uniform.”
Bryce Brown scored 29 points, making eight 3-pointers, and No. 14 Auburn claimed a share of the SEC title with a 79-70 comeback victory over South Carolina.
The Tigers (25-6, 13-5) earned the top seed in next week’s SEC tournament with the program’s third regular-season title ever. Auburn and No. 16 Tennessee share the title after the Volunteers beat Georgia 66-61, but Auburn won the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Tigers celebrated a rare title for a long-struggling program that’s also poised to end a 15-year NCAA tournament drought. Afterward, confetti showered the team as players donned SEC championship T-shirts on the court after reaching the second-most wins for Auburn behind that 1998-99 team.
It was a rare chance for the Tigers to cut down the nets, and some fans celebrated with the traditional rolling of Toomer’s Corner. They topped the league standings wire to wire despite the firing of associate head coach Chuck Person as result of a federal investigation that also sidelined players Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy.
Center Anfernee McLemore?then was lost for the season with an ankle injury.
“Having gone through some of the adversity during the course of the season did not sidetrack us,” Pearl said. “Nobody made excuses for being short-handed.
“The guys wanted to make history. They truly, truly did.”
Pearl joins Eddie Fogler as the only coach to win regular-season SEC titles at different schools. Pearl also won it as head coach of Tennessee in 2008; Volger won with Vanderbilt in 1993 and South Carolina in 1997.
Brown led a comeback after Auburn trailed by 14 points midway through the first half and busted out of a shooting slump in a big way. He went 8-for-12 on 3-pointers after going 7-for-39 over the previous four games while nursing foot and shoulder injuries.
“It’s unreal. It’s unbelievable, knowing where the program came from,” Brown said of winning the regular-season title. “When I signed here, of course our goal was to win a championship. But I don’t know if I really, truly felt like we were going to be able to. Three years later, here it goes.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.