The SEC is improved overall, and Auburn was part of that a month ago after beating Kentucky and Alabama back-to-back. But the loss of Kareem Canty on an already thin roster has clearly taken its toll, and tonight the Tigers looked every bit like the fourth-worst team the Vols have faced all year (according to KenPom). Tennessee started the game on a 9-0 run, Auburn responded with an 8-0 run, and then Tennessee slowly, surely pulled away. The Vols outscored Auburn 25-15 the rest of the first half, then pushed the lead to 17 by the first media timeout of the second half. The Vols eased it past 30 before Auburn worked it back to 26 at the final horn.
The Tigers are very limited, but it's worth noting what Tennessee was able to do with its two leading scorers not being their usual selves. Kevin Punter was hit with two fouls early then got the most well-deserved rest of the season for much of the second half, finishing with four points. Armani Moore tweaked his ankle late in the first half but returned in the second, doing his usual on the glass with 12 rebounds but scoring just two points.
In their absence Tennessee had a very productive night from Robert Hubbs off the bench with 20 points, plus 14 from Devon Baulkman and 10 from Detrick Mostella. Shembari Phillips got his first career start in place of fellow freshman Admiral Schofield; the former had six points and six rebounds. Ray Kasongo got a ton of minutes as the Vols pushed the lead beyond 30 down the stretch.
Auburn shot 23.7% from the floor, 19.2% from the arc, and 50% from the free throw line. That was more than enough for Tennessee to find an easy win to get them back to .500 at 12-12 (5-6). Up next is the only team worse than Auburn in SEC play with a trip to Missouri on Saturday, where Tennessee will look for its first two game winning streak in conference play.
The Tigers are a shell of themselves, but it's still a fine defensive performance and an encouraging night from Robert Hubbs.