In one of the most anticipated games of the NCAA Tournament thus far, the Auburn Tigers got an emphatic victory over the No. 1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels, 97-80, on Friday night in the Sweet Sixteen to earn a trip to the Elite Eight for the first time in 33 years and just the second time in school history.
After a 10-0 run by the Tigers midway through the second half, the Tar Heels followed that up with an 8-0 run of their own to cut the lead to 11 with seven minutes remaining but never got closer than within 10.
But it was a bittersweet victory for Auburn as their leading scorer, Chuma Okeke, had to be helped to the locker room midway through the second half with a left knee injury after a scary fall and did not return. He finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds, but there’s been no word yet about the nature or severity of his injury or when or if he might be able to return to action.
Auburn lit it up from distance as they were 17-of-37 from downtown on the game. Danjel Purefoy was 4-of-6 from three-point territory to finish with 14 points on the night and made some huge shots from long-range late in the second half to keep UNC at bay. The Tigers also got some huge plays on defense down the stretch.
They were able to withstand big games from Coby White and Cameron Johnson, who scored 15 points apiece in a losing effort, and 13 points from Luke Maye, who closed the chapter on his college career with 13 points and seven rebounds. Auburn matched their school record for wins with 29 as the March Madness run continues Sunday in the regional finals.