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Auburn coach Bruce Pearl breaks down talking about Chuma Okeke injury

By
Connor Grott
Auburn forward Chuma Okeke (4) suffered a leg injury against North Carolina in the Sweet 16. He led the Tigers with 20 points before exiting and did not return. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Auburn forward Chuma Okeke (4) suffered a leg injury against North Carolina in the Sweet 16. He led the Tigers with 20 points before exiting and did not return. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

March 29 (UPI) -- Auburn sophomore forward Chuma Okeke left the Tigers' NCAA tournament game Friday against North Carolina after suffering a scary leg injury in the second half.

With 8:08 remaining in the game, Okeke drove for a layup but crashed to the floor after his knee buckled. He remained on the floor for a few minutes while the school's medical staff attended to him.

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Okeke, who was greeted by Tar Heels players before exiting, gingerly walked off the court with the help of two trainers. He was taken for X-rays and did not return to the contest.

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl was emotional when discussing the injury following the game.

"Chuma was the best player on the floor," Pearl said. "He's hurt, he's hurt. We're gonna rally. I'll go hug on him."

Okeke had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds prior to his injury, both game highs. The Tigers led UNC 76-62 at the time of his departure.

The 6-foot-8 forward was Auburn's third-leading scorer in the regular season. He averaged 11.8 points and 6.7 rebounds with a 48.8 shooting percentage.

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Auburn went on to defeat North Carolina 97-80 to reach its second Elite Eight in program history. The Tigers' last appearance in the Elite Eight was in 1986.

Auburn will face the winner of the Kentucky-Houston matchup in the Midwest Regional final Sunday. The status of Okeke for the remainder of the tourney is unclear.

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