Auburn big man Chuma Okeke sustained a torn ACL against North Carolina in their Sweet 16 matchup. Auburn was able to overcome being shorthanded and appeared to use Okeke’s absence as motivation to play for their injured teammate.
Okeke was not initially planning on attending Auburn’s Elite Eight matchup against Kentucky. The Tigers big man ended up coming to the arena at halftime to try to provide his team with a boost. According to USA Today, Okeke did not make the trip with Auburn to the Final Four and is not expected to attend given his recent surgery.
Okeke suffered the injury as he drove to the basket against North Carolina in the second half. He collapsed to the floor before being able to get a shot off. The Tigers were up 14 points and were able to hold onto their lead to advance to the Elite Eight. Here is a look at the play where Okeke sustained the injury.
According to AL.com, Okeke flew to Pensacola, Florida to have the renowned Dr. James Andrews perform the surgery on Tuesday, April 2. Auburn announced the surgery went smoothly.
“Everything went well in the repair of his ACL,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said on the Paul Finebaum Show, per AL.com. “He’s out of surgery with Dr. Andrews.”
Auburn Players Cite Okeke’s Injury as Motivation to Win
The Auburn team is trying to use Okeke’s injury as motivation to continue performing at a high level. Anfernee McLemore admitted that they want to play well for their teammate who is not able to play.
“We took that as motivation that we were going to win for Chuma and do it for Chuma,” McLemore told USA Today. “We know he wants to be with us contributing. He would do anything to be with us, so we definitely have to play hard. We can’t take any plays off knowing that Chuma would do anything in his power if he could just be able to play in this game.”
Okeke was expected to test the NBA waters before his injury, but his next move remains up in the air as he recovers from a torn ACL. Auburn reached the Final Four despite missing arguably their best player. Okeke averaged 12 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 blocks this season. Pearl spoke about his team’s ability to step up in Okeke’s absence.
“There’s no question we missed Chuma, because you can’t replace him. He’s our most valuable player,” Pearl noted to ESPN. “He’s kind of our go-to guy, other than Jared or Bryce Brown. But they’ve got confidence in Anfernee, Austin, Danjel and Horace. [With] that confidence going in, our guys didn’t think, ‘We can’t win without him.’ We may miss him, but the other guys will step up.”