Auburn sophomore Chuma Okeke suffered what Tigers’ coach Bruce Pearl thinks could be a serious injury, after crashing to the floor while going up for a layup in the second half of Auburn’s 97-80 win over North Carolina on Friday.
“We don’t know the status, but we think it could be serious,” Pearl told reporters after the game.
Okeke will have an MRI on Saturday, Pearl said.
The sophomore was having a monster game when he went down, putting up 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Tigers, both team highs, in 25 minutes.
The Tigers continued their hot shooting in pulling away from top-seeded North Carolina.
Kentucky beat Auburn by 27 the last time the two played. The Tigers haven’t lost since that Feb. 23 meeting.
Auburn insisted all along that it wouldn’t change its style against up-tempo North Carolina.
“He’s a nightmare to match up with because he can guard any position. He can score inside and out,” Pearl said when asked about Okeke’s impact on the team. “So, as a play caller he gives you incredible flexibility. He’s our most versatile player.”
Auburn’s players echoed that sentiment after the game.
“If I would say myself, I think Chuma is our most valuable player,” Junior guard Jared Harper said. “He rebounds, gets assists. He scores inside, outside. He can guard all five pockets. He’s always in the right spot.”
Both Pearl and Harper said Auburn will be ready for their game against Kentucky on Sunday, whether Okeke is playing or not — a sentiment Okeke himself agreed with.
Auburn’s Bryce Brown discusses how the Tigers rebounded after Chuma Okeke left the game in the second half.
“I’m really proud of our team. We were able to make history tonight,” Okeke said in a statement provided by Auburn. “We do not drop off when we go to our bench and we’ll be ready for whoever we play on Sunday.”
Pearl got emotional after the game when talking about the Okeke, his eyes filling with tears as he said “We’re going to rally. I’ll go hug on him.”
Okeke suffered the injury with with 8:08 left in the second half. He grabbed his knee in obvious pain after it appeared to buckle under him, before standing and being helped off the court. North Carolina players walked over to greet Okeke and wish him well before he left the game.
Okeke could be seen in the locker room after the game with a visible limp and an ice pack around his left knee, as he stamped Auburn’s place in the Elite Eight.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 30, 2019
“We’re praying for him, y’all can pray for him too. Just keep him in high spirits,” Auburn’s Malik Dunbar said.