By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. -- There's a different vibe on Auburn's campus this week. Obviously, the students are back in town. But for the first time in a long time, there's a buzz surrounding the basketball team. The Tigers are 15-1, riding a 13-game winning streak, and fans have started jumping on in full support of this group.
"You notice it coming out of church or walking in and out of a store," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. "People are excited and they are definitely taking notice. You do notice it on campus too, walking around on campus. Winning does that.
"The community has a different feel to it. There is joy."
On campus this past Tuesday, everybody was talking about that night's game. Students were coming up to each other and asking `Are you going to the basketball game?' As a result, 3,392 students showed up to watch Auburn beat Ole Miss. It was the largest student crowd in the Pearl era, and it wound up being the first sell-out of the season.
"It was so loud," sophomore forward Anfernee McLemore said. "I had trouble calling out ball screens. But it was so hype. I think that just took our play up to another level. It allowed us to play with a great intensity out there on the floor.
"I feel like what we had last year is not to the magnitude that we have this year, and that just means a whole lot to us because it shows us that we're playing for something other than a title. We're playing for the fans. We're playing not only for our coaches but for Auburn and representing the university as a whole."
For Preslie Gifford, a junior majoring in public relations, Tuesday night was the first Auburn basketball game she had attended.
"I thought at first the crowd was going to calm down, but they never did," Gifford said. "The whole entire game -- they were pumped the whole time, screaming."
Even some of the football players have taken notice.
"I think it's amazing to see this energy convert to basketball right after football season," senior safety Jason Smith said.
Auburn won't play at home again until Saturday, Jan. 20, but Pearl is hoping to bring that same energy with his team to Starkville, Miss., this Saturday by helping organize a bus trip for fans to attend the Mississippi State game.
As of Thursday afternoon, two buses had already been filled up.
"That's really exciting for our students and for our fans," Pearl said. "It's not going to win or lose us the game, but it will really improve the environment. I think one of the things that I have always been in such admiration of is SEC football and the way fans travel. It just makes each environment very bowl-like and very tournament-like."
The game Saturday will tip off at 2:30 p.m. CT on the SEC Network.
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: