SAN DIEGO — Anfernee McLemore saw his Auburn basketball teammates’ emotions swing Friday throughout the Tigers’ 62-58 win over the College of Charleston in the NCAA Tournament.
“We had some butterflies that affected us offensively,” McLemore said. “We kind of rushed some things and tried to prove a point. It’s our first tournament in 15 years, so I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
And even though McLemore sat on the end of the bench Friday night in San Diego, unable to participate because of a season-ending left leg injury that happened one month ago, he went through that roller coaster as well.
“It was definitely pretty intense,” McLemore said. “Just sitting down on the bench, not being able to participate in it, there were some high and low emotions out there. But overall, I know the team fought.”
McLemore walked off the court in Viejas Arena on Friday night with a smile on his face. The fact McLemore is walking this quickly after fracturing his tibia, dislocating his ankle and tearing several ligaments in his left leg is remarkable progress.
The sophomore center from Warwick, Ga., has a plate and six screws in his leg, along with a “tightrope” that runs down to his ankle. McLemore said the surgery went so well that doctors have shaved a month off of his initial recovery time, and he hopes to be cleared in two or three more months.
“Recovery’s going great,” McLemore said. “I started walking last Thursday. Back on my feet. I’m actually using one crutch now instead of two. The timeline’s going well. Swelling is almost down to zero. Right now, I’m trying to build up strength back up in my left leg, getting back to running and jumping again.”
No matter how far Auburn goes in this NCAA Tournament, McLemore won’t be on the floor again for the Tigers until next season. But that hasn’t stopped him from playing a role.
“I’ve picked out my favorite pom-poms and started cheerleading as best I can,” McLemore said. “I’m just trying to keep the morale up on the team and get the mojo back. I’m just trying to get a positive vibe around us.”
Part of that positivity came on Twitter on Friday evening, when McLemore quickly tweeted at CBS Sports’ account that teammate Bryce Brown shouldn’t have been called for a late foul call.
— Anfernee McLemore (@akmclemore) March 17, 2018
McLemore was especially happy to cheerlead Auburn’s defense Friday night. The Tigers forced a season-high 21 turnovers from the College of Charleston and held the Cougars to 58 points, which were tied for the second-fewest of the campaign for the CAA tournament champions.
McLemore gave a shout-out to freshman point guard Davion Mitchell for playing “like a little man out there on D” in the locker room Friday evening. He also said he never lost confidence in his teammates’ ability to pull out the win, even though the Auburn offense produced arguably its worst game of the season.
“I was like, man, if I was in there, I’d probably have like 10 blocks,” McLemore said with a laugh. “Nah, you know, I just had a lot of faith in my guys. I knew they would find a way to pull it out. They’re smart players. When they went out on the court, I had full faith that if there were opportunities to make plays, they would make them.”
McLemore’s competitive spirit still burns inside when he’s on the bench. His ability to walk again can make things difficult on his psyche, too.
“It’s definitely been frustrating,” McLemore said. “An injury like this, after a while, you start to feel fine. But you’re not cleared, and I won’t be cleared for another two or three months.”
But winning cures everything — even when McLemore isn’t able to be on the floor.
“The frustration kind of gets to you, but then you see when they actually win, it just feels a lot better,” McLemore said. “This is what we’ve worked for. I’m still as much part of this team, even though I’m not on the court. I still feel it when we win, I still feel it when we lose. I feel good.”
"We came back as family."
— Greg Ostendorf (@greg_ostendorf) March 16, 2018