NASHVILLE, TN (WBRC) - There’s cool, and then there’s cold-blooded. Jared Harper is cold-blooded.
The Auburn point guard knocked down a clutch 3-pointer in the closing seconds to lead the Tigers past Florida, 65-62. The win seals their first trip to the SEC tournament finals since 2000.
Auburn will play Tennessee Sunday in the SEC Championship game.
At the time of the shot, Auburn was clinging to a one-point lead. The shot clock and game clock were running down, and there was Harper – calm, cool and collected as he dribbled out the clock to make his move. Depending on what the defender did, he was either going to drive past him or pull up. When he got just enough space, he stepped into a 3 and buried it.
“During the actual play, I was looking to attack the basket,” Harper said. “With a couple seconds left on the shot clock, I was going to try to get to the rim and see if I could create something for myself or somebody else. The defender backed up, I got a good look and made it.”
The lead went to four with 12 seconds left. Florida responded with a quick two, but after Harper knocked down one of two free throws, a last-second heave from the Gators fell short.
For Harper, the dagger 3 was his first basket of the second half. However, the junior carried Auburn in the first half with 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. He finished with a game-high 20 points and added four steals and two assists.
“(Harper) continues to show why he shouldn't have been left off the Bob Cousy list for best point guards in the country,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “I grew up in Boston. Bob Cousy was not a big man, but he had amazing courage and was a tremendous leader. More than anything, he was a winner. Jared will go out every night and he'll be challenged. I trust that he will give it everything he has.”
Fellow guard Bryce Brown scored all 11 of his points in the second half. It was the third straight game this week the senior has scored in double figures.
Though sophomore forward Chuma Okeke just missed double digits in scoring, he made some tough shots down the stretch and finished with nine points and a team-high seven rebounds.
The story of Saturday’s game, though, might have come on the defensive end where Auburn clamped down in the second half. Florida did shoot a blistering 61 percent from the field, but the Tigers forced 19 turnovers (13 in the second half) and held Florida without a field goal for over eight minutes during a critical stretch in the final 20 minutes.
“We’re a quick team,” sophomore Samir Doughty said. “That’s something we had in our game plan, to turn them over. We just really tried to focus on that, fighting through ball screens, just the little things we’ve been doing all year. It worked for us. We forced 19 turnovers.”