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SEC Tournament First Round - Tennessee 97 Auburn 59

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The Vols obliterate Auburn to open SEC Tournament action.

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

The SEC Network ran a graphic showing the number of players Auburn has lost this season, and tonight in the play-in game for the SEC Tournament the Vols again took advantage of the Tigers.  On February 9 the Vols beat Auburn 71-45 in Knoxville, doing it with defense in holding the Tigers to 23.7% from the floor.  That night foul trouble kept Kevin Punter from being a factor, but Tennessee still rolled.  Tonight, with Punter done for the year after having foot surgery, the Vols obliterated Auburn on the offensive end:  58.6% from the floor, 44% from the arc, and 97 points, an SEC Tournament record for Tennessee.  The Vols jumped out to a 10-0 lead and never looked back, flirting with a 40 point win before finishing 38 points better than the Tigers.

We joked in our game thread that the Vols would be a second weekend team if they played teams 6'4" and under.  Against the Tigers Tennessee was truly able to play to its strengths, and thanks to great ball movement and just great effort all around, those strengths were really enhanced.  Armani Moore put in one of the best games of his career to ensure it wouldn't be the last game of his career:  22 points on 10 of 13 shooting, plus five assists to just a single turnover getting heavy ball-handling minutes.  Devon Baulkman was four of eight from the arc on his way to 16 points.  Detrick Mostella was sensational going to the hole, scoring 17 points while hitting just one three, something I never would have thought possible.  Derek Reese had 9 points and 10 rebounds.

The Vols didn't give many meaningful minutes to Kyle Alexander or Ray Kasongo, and it'll be interesting to see how Rick Barnes chooses to handle that situation in tomorrow's game against Vanderbilt.  The Commodores have been Tennessee's biggest match-up nightmare in two wins this season, losing by 14 in Knoxville and 17 in Nashville.  The undersized Vols have been burned one-on-one in the post by the Commodores, then torched by open three point shooters when they tried to help inside.  Vandy won six of eight down the stretch, their only losses at Mississippi State at the buzzer and at league champ Texas A&M.

The challenge will be steep for the Vols, but tonight they broke their four game skid without Punter and had to build some confidence going forward.  This was a fun win.  We'll see if the Vols can carry it with them at around 3:30 PM ET tomorrow afternoon.

Go Vols.