The locker room was quiet, and before heading out to the court to play for a spot in the Sweet 16, Bruce Pearl’s expression was anything but.
“Our purpose is simply one thing: It’s to make history,” Pearl said.
In Auburn’s 89-75 win over Kansas on Saturday, Auburn secured its first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2003. Bryce Brown finished with a game-high 25 points on 9-for-11 shooting.
Pearl’s squad sprinted out of the locker room and continued to do so on the court, finishing with a program-high mark in the NCAA Tournament with 34 fast-break points.
Auburn had 26 in the first half.
“We were able to force them into turnovers and get rebounds and just run the floor on them, and they weren’t able to run with us and get back on defense,” Anfernee McLemore said. “That’s why we were able to get such a good lead because we were making so many points in transition, whether it was threes or layups. They had a hard time guarding us in transition.”
Brown led an early offensive surge for the Tigers after making his first five shots, including four makes from beyond the arc. Jared Harper, who had 14 first-half points, combined with Brown’s 17 to build Auburn’s 51-25 lead going into halftime.
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The duo led Auburn’s shooting as the team combined to shoot 56 percent from the floor and 53 percent from beyond the arc. In comparison, Kansas had just eight made field goals to Auburn’s 20 while shooting just under 30 percent from the field.
To Brown, the offense was able to rush toward an early 23-9 lead because of the team’s effort on defense.
“Typically when we start off hot on the defensive end, we start off hot on the offensive end,” Brown said. “We get out in transition, knock down shots. If we continue to do that, we’ll continue to win ball games and go even further.”
Harper finished with 18 points on 6-for-14 shooting to go along with six assists.
The 26-point deficit at halftime is the largest faced by Kansas in the program’s 155 tournament games.
In addition, the 51 points tie Auburn’s largest tournament output in a half.
The last time Auburn reached that mark was against Syracuse in the 2003 Sweet 16.
Despite both teams opening the second half shooting a combined 71 percent from the floor, Auburn continued to hold back runs by the Jayhawks.
Kansas’ Dedric Lawson and Devon Dotson finished with 25 and 13 points, including 19 and 10 in the second half, respectively.
Okeke continued to be an all-around threat, finishing with 12 points to complement five rebounds, four assists and four steals. McLemore added 11 points and five rebounds.
McLemore’s double-digit output is his first since a win over Mississippi State at home on March 2.
With his team now riding a 10-game winning streak, Pearl will look to prepare for an outing on Friday against 1-seed UNC.
For Harper, the win over Kansas made history.
“It feels great for us, being able to be a part of history, be able to make history here at Auburn,” Harper said. “It was a goal of ours to be able to come in and make history. That was the reason for coming to Auburn, to be able to do that. We played really well today and we’re ready to advance even further.”
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