Auburn throttled North Carolina during their Sweet 16 matchup on Friday night, becoming the first team to knock out a 1-seed in the 2019 NCAA Tournament and earning the school’s second Elite 8 appearance ever. A major reason why was the play of sophomore big man Chuma Okeke, who terrorized the Tar Heel frontcourt, but in a piece of brutal news, the Atlanta native won’t be able to suit up again this March.
With 8:08 left in the game, Okeke — who had 20 points and 11 rebounds in the win — planted his left leg awkwardly and went down in obvious pain. He did not return to the game, and Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said after the game that he was “hurt” in an emotional interview.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the injury is a torn ACL, and surgery will occur next week following Sunday’s matchup against Kentucky with a berth in the Final Four on the line.
Losing Okeke is a gigantic loss for the Tigers, which are the lowest-seeded team left in the NCAA Tournament. His ability to battle down low and attack the glass (tops on the team with 6.8 rebounds per game), mixed with his 38.7 percent clip from deep, would have been really valuable in a matchup with the Wildcats, and as Pearl said in the above clip, Okeke really was the best player on the floor against North Carolina before going down.
Auburn is a really good team regardless, but not having their big man going forward is a gigantic blow to their hopes of winning the first national championship in program history.