Last Saturday was a good reminder of how far Auburn basketball has come since Bruce Pearl took over as head coach.
Despite a time change made just 24 hours before the tipoff of the Georgia game, fans packed Auburn Arena.
Despite an 11 a.m. tipoff, students were lined up hours before the gates opened to make sure they got a spot in the arena and they had filled their sections 70 minutes prior to tipoff.
Despite warnings that severe weather was coming, fans didn’t let that keep them away and packed the house. Once the game started, the crowd was into the action and gave their team a great homecourt advantage and in the process they were treated to an outstanding effort by the Tigers.
Despite multiple reasons why fans might not show up last Saturday there was a standing-room only crowd for a fifth consecutive sellout at Auburn Arena, the first time that has happened in the facility’s 10-year history.
The streak looks like it will continue. Of the eight remaining home games there are no tickets available for six of those contests. There are only standing room tickets left for the game vs. South Carolina next Wednesday and for the final game of the season at Auburn Arena vs. Texas A&M on March 4th.
The strong support started long before Pearl got the situation on the court turned around. It wasn’t until 2016-17, the coach’s third season at Auburn, that the Tigers produced a winning record. Since then there have been back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament following a regular season SEC Championship in 2018 and an SEC Tournament Championship in 2019.
This season’s team is well on its way to earning another trip to the NCAA Tournament and with its senior leadership, depth and willingness to play with a high level of intensity, it won’t be a surprise if the Tigers find a way to win another SEC championship
Pearl and his team got the support they are enjoying the old-fashioned way — they earned it. Alumni and students could see the obvious progress being made and noticed how hard the head coach, his staff and his players were working to revitalize a program that had lost its way. That is something fans wanted to be a part of and they have helped make Auburn basketball fun again and relevant like it had been when coaches Cliff Ellis, Sonny Smith and Joel Eaves were putting exciting teams on the court.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Tigers magazine and newsletter