SAN DIEGO — Auburn basketball exited its first NCAA Tournament in 15 years in rough fashion, falling by 31 points to Clemson in the second round Sunday evening.
The Tigers shot their worst offensive percentage of the season, and Clemson had an easy time scoring for most of the contest. Auburn will finish its 2017-18 season with a record of 26-8.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, shooting guard Bryce Brown and center Horace Spencer took the podium in San Diego after the loss. Here’s a transcript of what they said.
BRUCE PEARL: Dominating performance by Clemson. They played great. They have been playing really well. They’ve got great guard play. Thomas is a factor. They’re extremely well-coached. They were very well prepared. They dominated us.
You know, for me, this basketball team was very undersized. We were down to just eight scholarship players available to us the last six weeks of the season, and yet we managed to hang on there and win an SEC regular season championship. I’m so proud of my players, so proud of our basketball program. But obviously we’re very disappointed with the way we played tonight and how we represented our conference.
Guys, was there a point early in that game where you realized that maybe it just wasn’t going to be your night?
HORACE SPENCER: Personally, we never give up. My teammates, we never want to give up no matter how far down we get. So I feel like, no, we never saw that we were out of the game. Never will be out of the game.
BRYCE BROWN: For me, the same way. They just made a lot of tough shots, good shots. Not much you can say about that. Got to tip your hat off to them.
Bryce, how do you explain the end of the first half as far as their defense and what they were doing to you guys and what
you guys kind of did to yourselves with the shots?
BRYCE BROWN: I mean, I really have to go back and look on film to see exactly what happened. I really don’t know where we lost our focus at. All I can really honestly remember is they came down. They had a few stretches where they came down and knocked down shots and we had a few stretches where we came down and took kind of bad shots at times and that led to easy fast breaks for them. So I can’t give you a sure answer to that. I’ve got to look at film and see where that went wrong.
Coach, when you look back at the last 48 hours or so is there anything sitting there now to indicate that you weren’t going
to be prepared as maybe you wanted to be?
BRUCE PEARL: I thought our preparation was good. I thought the guys were locked in. I thought we had a good game plan. I knew they were really good, but they got through screens where we didn’t set them, or they beat us to spots. They were beating us to places we wanted to go. They did a really good job of not extending and anytime we got the ball in the paint their length really bothered us. We’re a spread ball screen team.
So in the first half we got some throw backs and we either didn’t take shots and force penetration or put the ball on the floor and drove in without very good spacing. We’re a small basketball team that’s relied on the three-ball all season long and when we’re not taking them or not making them we’re going to struggle offensively.
When you’re watching that, how difficult was that, given you worked so hard to get here? You know how good your guys are,
you love your guys, but it’s gotta be brutal watching that stretch?
BRUCE PEARL: It was brutal. You feel bad because you want to represent Auburn and represent your conference. We have not made excuses all season long. We have eight scholarship players. I have a 6-3 power forward, Desean. That was a tough match-up for Desean, all that size and length. It’s been catching up with us down the stretch, here, the last couple of months. Yet this group has been resilient enough to win enough at the end to get a 4-seed, to advance in the NCAA Tournament, to win the SEC Championship. We’re a little overmatched and Clemson clearly showed that tonight.
Bruce, when you look back at this season, obviously this won’t be a happy memory today, but does this take away from all those
other things that you talked about at all?
BRUCE PEARL: No. This doesn’t take anything away. As of Sunday afternoon there were 20-something teams still playing in the NCAA Tournament and Auburn was one of them. This is where we want our basketball program. I have no seniors. No seniors! We’re the second youngest team in the SEC behind Kentucky. I feel good about the foundation of our program. These kids have been amazing us all season long with their toughness, their resiliency, the way they have played together. Tonight was a night like maybe we had in the SEC Tournament against Alabama, especially the second half against Alabama where we just got overwhelmed. Size was a factor and we made mistakes that certainly contributed to Clemson’s success and that’s on us. But it doesn’t take away from the championship season.
Did Clemson do anything that really you weren’t expecting?
BRUCE PEARL: I would say I thought they would extend a little more. Instead they packed it in. So our guys turned down. I thought we turned down some really good, open shots. Chuma come off a pin down, turned it down. Mustapha come off of throw-backs and turned it down. And then put it on the floor and took it into the heart and the soul of the defense where there was a great deal of length.
That said, with only a day to prepare that’s what they did right away. So we have plenty things to be able to take advantage of how clogged the lane was, but we never made the adjustments. Bryce Brown was a confident shooter for Auburn. But the rest of us weren’t. There wasn’t anybody else out there that was confident shooting the basketball. As a result, we didn’t make a lot of shots that we make all year long.
How did you feel your team’s effort was after getting behind the big early?
BRUCE PEARL: I think give given the score and given the margin they did the best they could to hang in there. There was some times you could see the body language. It’s deflating when you’re down 40 in a big game like that. It just is. Yet I thought they clawed back and to lose the second half by 7, when we were so dominated as a team, I think that speaks to the character of our basketball team.
What do you attribute the lack of confidence with your shooters besides Bryce? Is it the last eight or nine games not seeing
the ball go through the hole or something more than that?
BRUCE PEARL: I’m not really sure. Desean Murray has been a dominating force for us all season long. He has been a nightmare to match-up with. Coming down the stretch, he hasn’t been as dominate. Did the fatigue of the season, all that was counted on him, our front line, I got three guys on the front line, him, Chuma and Horace, and maybe that was a factor. Chuma makes his first or second three and then misses the next three or four, and they’re all good looks. We need him to make those throwbacks. I thought Horace Spencer competed, battled. Never got out of character. He’s the old man in the locker room, so I really don’t know what to blame it on.
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