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Auburn’s advantage: We’ve Got Jared

<p>Jared Harper (1) Auburn men's basketball vs Kentucky during the NCAA Midwest Regional final on Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>

Jared Harper (1) Auburn men's basketball vs Kentucky during the NCAA Midwest Regional final on Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo.  

Jared Harper was named the Midwest Regional’s Most Outstanding Player following Auburn’s Elite Eight overtime victory over Kentucky. He scored 26 points while recording five assists, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks. He averaged 17.5 points per game and 6.5 assists per game through the first four games of the NCAA Tournament. When Auburn needed Harper most, he delivered.

Auburn began their Elite Eight showdown with Kentucky sloppy and unable to make their shots. The usually hot three-point shooting team was held to a 3-of-11 showing in the first half.

“I feel like they were trying to limit our 3 ball tonight, and Kentucky is not a team that usually helps off the wings. We had to drive and get downhill. Make tough 2s and continue to play our game,” said Harper when asked about execution when the three-pointers were not falling.

As ugly as the first half was with PJ Washington scoring 15 and four Tigers already committing two or more fouls, Auburn went into the locker room down 35-30 feeling good about where they were at after a strong final three minutes.

“Well, we got Jared. We got Chuma Okeke, and we got Bryce Brown shooting up the 3 balls. These guys trust each other. I think one of the messages -- guys got to trust each other,” Coach Bruce Pearl said when asked about the energy coming out of the second half also alluding to the song that Auburn fan Son of Crow made which many Auburn fans have embraced.

It only took Auburn 2:14 to turn the five-point deficit they faced into a three-point lead. Jared Harper hit two free throws and also had a steal and an assist to help spark the Auburn offense. This would only be the start of Harper’s dominating second half and overtime.

Harper came through in the second half by recording three assists, rebounds and steals. His most memorable play would be the game-tying layup he made with 37 seconds left to force overtime with both teams locked at 60.

Overtime is when Jared Harper solidified himself as the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Region.

Auburn jumped out to a quick 64-60 lead with key defensive stops and two Jared Harper layups. They took a 66-62 lead after a beautiful lob pass from Harper to Anfernee McLemore who finished with a layup. Following a McLemore breakaway layup and PJ Washington free throw, Harper drove into the lane and took on the lengthy Washington right under the basket to give Auburn a 70-63 lead with 1:10 left in overtime.

From this point forward, it came down to free throws for Auburn to make their first Final Four in program history. With Harper being an 83 percent free throw shooter and maybe Auburn’s most clutch player, they tried to get the ball in Harper’s hands every possession. They did just that on all but one possession. Jared Harper was 6-of-6 from the free throw line down the stretch to close out the game. He finished the game 11-of-11 from the stripe.

Auburn defeated Kentucky 77-71 in overtime to advance to their first Final Four ever and will face Virginia in the National Semifinals. Auburn got to this point after rallying for 12 consecutive wins following a 27-point loss to Kentucky in February. They did not lose in March. They won the SEC Tournament for the first time since Sonny Smith. Now they ask why not us? They sing "We’ve Got Jared" and they are determined to do it for Chuma.

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