Well, that was the worst possible way for Auburn's historic run to end
That game was awesome. That ending was not.
That fire take is from someone with zero rooting interest for Auburn or Virginia, and even I was bothered by that finish.
So yeah, Auburn fans. I hear you. That was awful. Devastating, debate-it-in-your-living-room-for-eternity awful.
If you somehow missed the fashion in which Auburn’s historic season ended in the Final Four against Virginia on Saturday night, here’s a little rundown. Up 2 with 1.5 seconds left, Auburn was one Virginia missed shot from advancing to a national championship.
Or rather, one missed shot without a foul* from advancing to the national championship. Samir Doughty contested Kyle Guy’s 3-point attempt. The shot clanked off the rim, but as the final buzzer sounded, a whistle blew.
It wasn’t quite Ohio State against Miami in the January 2003 Fiesta Bowl, but it was late enough to where even the public address announcer gave Auburn the win. I bet plenty of toilet paper rolls were opened in anticipation of them soaring above Toomer’s Corner to celebrate Auburn’s national championship berth.
Not so fast. This is the play that Auburn fans will discuss for the rest of time:
Refs have Virginia in their bracket pool. Only explanation. pic.twitter.com/LI9cpqHZ6T
— Barstool Sports (@barstooltweetss) April 7, 2019
And of course, Guy then hit all 3 free throws and Virginia sent Auburn home in shock.
There aren’t any words to describe a loss like that.
Here’s the thing. Regardless of whether Doughty should have been whistled for a foul in that spot — even Charles Barkley admitted it was a foul — that was about the worst possible way to see Auburn’s season end.
Think about it. Even a last-second shot would have been easier to stomach than that. At least that would be based on merit and not, as many will continue to point out, a game that was decided by an official’s controversial call.
Oh, and the missed double dribble call from Ty Jerome on that final Virginia possession was just salt in the wound.
— Skye Underwood (@SkyeUnderwood) April 7, 2019
Had Auburn just folded when Virginia went up 10 in the final 5 minutes, Auburn fans are holding their heads high instead of being the worst kind of angry/sad hybrid that a sports fan can be. But that didn’t happen. This team wasn’t built to just fold.
How fitting it was that Grant Hill went to the commercial break at the under-4 timeout with Virginia up 6 by asking this question on the broadcast.
“Does (Auburn) have any fight left? Virginia in control.”
Yeah, about that. All Auburn did was put itself up 4 with 9 seconds left. Bryce Brown caught fire and Anfernee McLemore knocked down clutch free throws.
Auburn even had the ultimate championship moment when McLemore made a pair of free throws to give Auburn that 4-point lead with 17 seconds left. Those watching on the broadcast with even half-decent lip-reading skills could see the words that he mouthed to himself before stepping to the line.
That was of course referring to Auburn starter Chuma Okeke, who wasn’t able to make the trip to Minneapolis because of the surgery for the torn ACL he suffered against UNC in the Sweet 16. Auburn dedicated the Kentucky win to Okeke, and we know they would have had all the reason to dedicate the program’s first Final Four win to him, too.
But not this time. Instead, Auburn fans will be left wondering what would have happened had the double dribble been called and if the Doughty foul had been a play on.
Well, they don’t have to wonder. That was the game right there.
The shame is that the poise that Auburn showed in those final 5 minutes — and really all NCAA Tournament — probably won’t get the praise it deserves. Auburn overcame a double-digit deficit against the nation’s top defense in the final 5 minutes and came 1.5 seconds away from playing for a national championship.
Saturday was the most painful reminder of how cruel March can be. Auburn spent the past 2 weeks reminding opposing fans of that. Up until the final free throws, it appeared that Virginia was going to become the latest victim of Auburn’s “team of destiny” tournament.
It turns out that Auburn wasn’t the team of destiny. If it were, the ball would have bounced the Tigers’ way on one of those 2 controversial calls. Virginia is the team that will count its lucky stars. And if the Cavaliers do go on to win it all, I look forward to Auburn fans arguing that it should have an asterisk.
There will be a lot of angst and frustration over Auburn hoops in the next few days. As there should be. As Auburn fans can attest to, you never know how long it’ll take to get back to the Final Four.
But this Auburn team doesn’t deserve to be remembered for that ending. It deserves to be remembered as the blue-blood killer. It deserves to be remembered as the team that stunned Kentucky without Okeke. It deserves to be remembered as the team that hit a record-setting number of 3-pointers and played a brand of offense that equal parts fun and modern.
It deserves to be remembered as a champion, even though it won’t be cutting down the nets in Minneapolis. After all, Auburn did win the SEC Tournament and that brutal Midwest Region.
Who knows? Maybe that run will provide the fuel for another run in the near future and Auburn fans won’t have to wait 33 years in between Elite Eight appearances.
It remains to be seen what Auburn’s future runs will look like. I have to think there will be more. There is one thing I do know.
No tournament run ending will ever be tougher to stomach than that.