SALT LAKE CITY – Auburn assistant coach Wes Flanigan wrapped his arm around Samir Doughty's shoulder as they walked off the floor. Per Doughty tried to keep Flanigan in a positive position after having disappointed himself with his late free throws. Bryce Brown and Horace Spencer had hard coal faces, no smiles to be seen despite only winning the second NCAA tournament game in their career. Jared Harper shook his head in disbelief.
Bruce Pearl was the last one from the floor and his reaction said it all. He took a deep breath, a heavy sigh and clapped his lips as if to say: We really got away with one there.
"They call it survive and pursue for a reason," Pearl said.
NCAA Tournament wins are supposed to spur the happiest moments.
This requested mixed reactions.
Auburn led with as much as 1
The original feelings that the player walked away from the floor mimicked the experience as they entered the wardrobe.
"Everyone was crazy when we came back," Spencer said. "I like it because we're still hungry. We still want to play. We'll still be able to move on. We want to make sure we're here. We're still underdogs. People are still counting us. That's exactly what we want. "
It marked Auburn's ninth consecutive victory and ended the New Mexico state's 19-game draw. It was only the second time that someone in the team had won an NCAA tournament game. It should be a moment of elation.
But it couldn't be because of how it unfolded.
"It doesn't feel as good as I thought it would be after a tournament game. But I think it's OK because we live to see another day," Brown said.
When the immediate frustrations struck, and Bruce Pearl offered an uplifting post-game speech, the tigers could enjoy the winner.
Auburn's leaders recognized how close one came to season-ending disappointment.
"I want the head down is probably just the first reaction. We have a much better mood right now. The heads down came just because of how we almost lost the game, how the season could almost possibly have ended right there, "Brown said. "But as long as we get away with the victory, we look at what we are surviving. We have a much better mood right now than when the fight ended."
Pearl likes to hear these types of comments from his team.
Are they frustrated? Of course. Should they be? Absolutely.
But Pearl doesn't want them to be too down on themselves because an NCAA Tournament win is more than anything else. And, based on his team's disappointment in winning fashion, he knows he has a team that cares, a team that realizes the heartbeat they almost encountered.
"I think it's a good sign they were down and frustrated. They realize they almost let one slip away. They wont," Pearl said. "I tell the parents all the time. Coach, what should I do with my son when he makes a mistake, pouts and puts his head down, sometimes even crying? I say, listen, it's easier to teach them to fit a little less than To teach them to worry at all. Our guys have a hard time with themselves and are a little down because they want it so bad. It's a big problem to have. "