Auburn will be without Chuma Okeke the rest of its postseason run after the sophomore suffered an ACL tear Friday in the Tigers’ win over North Carolina.
“He worked so hard, spent so much time in the gym and making sure his body is right,” Auburn’s Bryce Brown said Saturday. “It’s our jobs to pick him up, lift him up, encourage him, and all we want to do at this point is go out there and play for him. We’re going to use it at motivation. Hopefully we can do this for our boy.”
The 6-foot-8 forward leads the Tigers, who will face Kentucky in the Elite 8 on Sunday, in rebounds and steals.
“I felt like he’s our most valuable player for our team,” Jared Harper said, “all the things that he’s able to do in the court, guard 1 through 5, be able to smooth from perimeter, score inside and just do all those things. I know we’re going to get that production of all those things he did from all of us it’s going to take all of us, not just one single person.”
Okeke was third on Auburn with 12 points per game. He scored a team-high 14 in the Tigers’ last matchup with Kentucky during the SEC regular season.
“I think the minute Chuma hit the floor (Friday) and started pounding his fist on the ground, that was no sprain,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “I think the reaction from all the guys is really unfair because he’s such a great kid and such a hard worker, so humble, but he’s got a big dream. Players like Chuma give teams courage and confidence. We’re going to miss him tomorrow because we’re going to be — we’re going to have tough matchups. We lost every single matchup we had against Kentucky in Lexington, everyone from the bench to the players.
“But Chuma always give us a chance to win that matchup. So now he’s going to be out for awhile. He’s got to rehab and that’s what God’s plan was. He’s going to handle it. But we’re all sad and heartbroken for him. There was no celebrating in our locker room last night because of his injury. At the same time, there’s no time to celebrate. We’re looking at a tip in about 20 hours against probably the best team in the country right now.”