Auburn forward Chuma Okeke's left knee was in so much pain that he planned to watch the Tigers' NCAA tournament regional final Sunday against Kentucky from his hotel and await the return flight to Alabama.
It was late in the first half that Okeke realized he needed to be at Sprint Center.
The sophomore told a member of the Auburn staff that he'd changed his mind, and Okeke was soon being wheeled into the building in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. He finally made it to the floor at the under-16-minutes media timeout, and watched the rest of the Tigers' 77-71 overtime victory from behind the Auburn bench.
It was a surprise to his Tigers teammates. Horace Spencer told ESPN's Michele Steele that Okeke said in a text before the game that he was in pain and would watch the game offsite with his family.
"I just think he had to be there,'' Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said.
Anfernee McLemore said "it was just a big courage booster inspiration to see him out there and just supporting us."
"Our goal out there today was just do it for Chuma. That was our only focus. I feel like we did and made him proud," Bryce Brown said.
Okeke took part in the celebration as he placed a stamp with Auburn's name in the Final Four slot on a bracket on the court and was handed the Midwest Regional trophy.
Okeke is scheduled to have surgery on his torn ACL, which he hurt in the team's Sweet 16 victory over North Carolina, on Tuesday. It's unclear whether he plans to accompany the Tigers to Minneapolis for the Final Four next weekend.
Auburn lost twice to Kentucky during the regular season with Okeke, its top rebounder and third-leading scorer, in the lineup.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.