Ray Harper “excited” to take on Auburn and Bruce Pearl in press conference

Photo courtesy of Thomas Ashworth

Thomas Ashworth, Sports Editor

In Jacksonville State’s press conference before tomorrow’s matchup against Auburn, all eyes were on the team’s opportunity to upset the number two-seeded Tigers.

Kayne Henry mentioned how Jacksonville State has bounced back from their semifinal loss to Jacksonville University and how they have a chip on their shoulder going into the NCAA Tournament.

“Just to lose to Jacksonville in that semifinal, it definitely hurt, but we have a second chance. We definitely have a chip on our shoulder. We’ve been going hard every day and practicing and competing against one another. So we’re definitely ready for the challenge.”

Brandon Huffman discussed his NCAA Tournament experience, noting that he played against Auburn when he played in the NCAA Tournament at UNC in the 2018-19 season. UNC fell to Auburn in the Sweet Sixteen, 97-80.

“Basically, the level of experience that comes with it. Having seen some of this, my role is definitely bigger. Me and this guy here, we’ve been in this position before. Actually, the last time I was in the NCAA tournament, I played against Auburn.”

Two players on Jacksonville State’s roster, Darian Adams and Brandon Huffman, talked about their time in the NCAA Tournament at their previous schools.

“Probably the first two times we came, we weren’t the bigger pieces of the team, but like we’re the bigger pieces of this team this time. I feel like we’ve got a bigger responsibility than we did the first time. So I just feel like now it’s just time for us to do something different and just be leaders out there since we’ve been here before,” said Darian Adams, who went to the NCAA Tournament during his time at Troy.

Ray Harper noted his relationship with Auburn’s head coach Bruce Pearl, saying he was “excited,” to see him.

“I can’t wait to see Bruce. I haven’t seen Bruce in a while. I got to see him on television. Now I get to see him up close and personal like in the old days,” Harper said. “Then we get to see his lovely team. That will be a lot of fun.”

When Ray Harper served as head coach at Kentucky Wesleyan from 1996-2005, Pearl was the head coach at conference rival Southern Indiana until 2001, when he left for Milwaukee. 

Harper and Pearl played against each other at least two times a year, meeting inn the postseason on multiple occasions.

“We really created something of interest to those communities. Our schools were separated by about 40 miles. You couldn’t get a ticket,” Harper said. “Their game at their place, you couldn’t get a ticket. At our place, and when the conference tournament would roll around and seated 10,000, you couldn’t get a ticket to that game. I thought it was great for both universities.”

Jacksonville State is set to take on Auburn at 11:40 a.m. CST. The game will be broadcast on truTV. Jacksonville State will also be hosting a watch party at Pete Mathews Coliseum, and doors will open at 11:15 a.m. CST.

“I feel like the job’s not done yet,” Jalen Gibbs said. “We still have a lot more to do.”

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