In the first half Auburn’s Jared Harper hit five threes, the first two from NBA range. The rest of the Tiger roster made three shots.
Meanwhile Tennessee made it their business to go to Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, and despite once again being undersized business was good. At some point we just cease to be amazed that Tennessee does things like +8 on the boards and gets 35 points on 15-of-23 from those two even though they’re giving up half a foot almost every night. They don’t give up much on the scales though, and tonight they continued a run of incredible play against the SEC.
They helped the Vols not just survive but thrive despite a 2-of-12 night from Robert Hubbs. A 15-0 run capped by a Lew Evans three turned a 16-14 game into a blowout, and it stayed there almost all the way home. The Vols were up 16 at halftime, then quickly pushed the lead to 22 to open the second half.
Auburn scratched it down to 11 with four minutes to play and then got it to eight with 47 seconds to go, but free throws made sure the outcome was never in doubt. The Vols hit 22-of-27 (81.5%) tonight, a return to early season form. Tennessee leaves Auburn an 87-77 winner, the Vols’ fourth straight and fifth in six games.
In the continuing quest to figure out if, hey, maybe we’re just good? This clearly wasn’t Hubbs’ best night, and Lamonte Turner had been really good in this run but had only one point in seven minutes tonight. But in their place, others stepped up: Jordan Bowden had 15 points and six rebounds. And the Lew Evans love affair continues: 25 minutes, eight points, three rebounds. Tennessee shot 9-of-16 from the arc (Schofield was 3-of-4!) and got most of them from good looks through an active, productive offense.
The Vols go to 13-9 (5-4), 36th in KenPom and 37th in RPI. We said earlier this week 18 wins should get the Vols in the conversation, 19 on the dance floor. Every one of these is big from here, and it goes to Starkville next.
Meanwhile Auburn drops to 14-8 (3-6), still on pace for definitive progress in year three with Bruce Pearl. But Bruce Pearl is now 1-4 against Tennessee and has lost the last three by a combined 74 points. I think we’re done with that conversation. May it rest in peace.
Onward and upward go Rick Barnes and these Vols. The healthy confidence in this program we carried into this game simply continues to grow.