The North Carolina basketball team’s season came to an end Friday night with a 97-80 loss to Auburn in the Midwest Region semifinal at the Sprint Center.
But Auburn wasn’t necessarily in a mood to celebrate. That’s because Tigers star Chuma Okeke, who had team highs of 20 points and 11 rebounds, was injured with about eight minutes left.
“It’s a knee injury,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “We don’t know the status, but we think it could be serious.”
Bryce Brown, Okeke’s roommate at Auburn and on the road, said the Tigers prayed for their injured teammate.
“It really hurt me,” Brown said. “To see how much pain he was in. It didn’t just hurt me, it hurt the whole team. You could see it in all of our faces. We got in here after the game and prayed twice.
“I kinda feel like the celebration tonight won’t be as sweet. We’re missing one of our soldiers. It’s going to hurt, but I feel like it’s going to lift us up at the same time. When we lose somebody like that, we want to lift him up and make him feel like he’s out there. Winning the whole thing would definitely make him happy.”
As Okeke was exiting the game, a number of North Carolina players wished him well in a sign of sportsmanship:
“I think in those moments, you begin to see what these guys are made of, both teams, the fabric,” Pearl said. “We started to pray. We asked God to watch over our brother. And Carolina did it and our guys did it. Our guys said — as soon as he went down, they said, ‘Let’s pray.’ Blessed that we live in a country where we’re able to do that. That was I think everybody’s first thought. Wasn’t about the score or the next possession. It was about our brother.”
People watching at home, including Royals outfielder Billy Hamilton, were impressed: