AUBURN — Pop.
This is the sound that was heard Saturday following a drive to the basket by Auburn point guard Jared Harper with 99 seconds left in what was likely to be a historic win for the home team.
Auburn was up by 12 points in what would be an SEC championship-clinching win over South Carolina, and sophomore point guard, who Tigers head coach Bruce Pearl call “our quarterback,” was going to line to complete a three-point play.
Suddenly, nobody was looking at the floor. Even though the game still wasn’t complete, a pop sound from a confetti gun similar to when a cork is initially removed from a bottle was heard. It was immediately followed by orange and blue streamers coming down from the rafters of the arena to land near the chairback seats behind Auburn’s bench.
“My first thought was, act like you have been there before,” Pearl said after the victory.
After having that initial thought, Pearl suddenly understood and appreciated why that was a ridiculous idea — almost as ridiculous as firing a confetti gun with over 90 seconds left in a game. The Auburn program hasn’t “been there” often — just twice before Saturday evening to be exact and never had come close to feat since winning the title in 1999.
So, a malfunction in the confetti gun could almost be seen as understandable for a school that’s not used to what was expected to come — a conference title, a guarantee of a new banner at Auburn Arena and nets being cut down.
“So, we don't know how to act like it,” Pearl said Saturday while smiling.
The confetti began to rain down on the playing floor forcing officials Joe Lindsay, Chuck Jones and Garrick Shannon to enforce an automatic technical foul on the home team for causing a delay in the action.
“I wasn't even mad. I felt bad,” Pearl said. “However, it happened, somebody must have made a mistake. Whoever made the mistake or whatever it was, they feel awful.”
The Auburn Arena employee who set the confetti off too early would’ve felt worse had South Carolina made a drastic comeback, and the situation was looking that way after Frank Booker made the technical free throw, Harper missed his free throw from the 3-point play opportunity and Booker made a jumper to turn the deficit to nine points with 92 seconds left. South Carolina eventually made it seven-point deficit with one minute to go. Fortunately for the unknown Auburn Arena employee, that’s as close as the Gamecocks would get in what would become a 79-70 Auburn win.
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin, who had been lauded last season for taking his program to their first Final Four appearance, acknowledged his appreciation in his post-game comments and in a post-game message on Twitter for the atmosphere at Auburn Arena last weekend.
“A lot of credit to Auburn and its administration and fans,” Martin said following the loss. “Those kids, too. Obviously, Bruce has been involved in it to create the atmosphere that they have created. That was phenomenal. hats off to the Auburn administration. What they have created here is as good of a home court environment as I have ever been in. Hats off to the school, the administration, the alums, whoever, even the fans and students. They are the talk of the league right now as hard it is to win in this building.”
Pearl, who joined Eddie Fogler as the second coach in Southeastern Conference history to lead two different programs to a regular-season league title, knew this victory was the result of a dream he’d attempted to put into place on his 54th birthday when he was named the 20th head coach in Auburn men’s basketball history. So, Pearl wasn’t about to get angry at anyone in the athletics department for starting the celebration a little early.
“That’s part of my family. I make mistakes every day out there [on the court],” Pearl said. “They just made a mistake. They must have pulled a lever too soon. I wasn't angry at all.”