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Auburn smokes Tennessee at home, 85-63

The Tigers have now dropped the Vols five straight times.

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Volunteers (17-14, 9-9) knew a win was required against the 17th-ranked Auburn Tigers (25-6, 12-6) in order to remain eligible for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

A late second-half push made things interesting, but outside of those minutes, the Tigers led wire-to-wire and walked out of Thompson-Boling Arena with their fifth straight victory over the Vols.

Doughty led the team with 32 points on 10-of-17 (8-of-13 from 3) shooting, but it was Auburn’s defense that really made hell for the Vols. Bruce Pearl’s pressure concepts never allowed Tennessee to find a rhythm outside of a 14-3 run in the second half.

John Fulkerson capped off a great season by leading the Vols in points again for the umpteenth time. He finished with 19 points on 5-of-10 shooting and was the main reason the Vols were even competitive at some points.

Doughty made a shot from the perimeter to get things going, but Fulkerson followed up with a tough shot inside the paint to cut Auburn’s lead to 3-2. Later on, an Yves Pons bucket tied things up at four, although the tie didn’t last long. Anfernee McLemore broke the tie with a dunk. Jordan Bowden tied it back up with a layup. Okoro kept the back-and-forth going on with a 3 on the next possession and another layup gave the Tigers an 11-6 lead with 15:11 remaining in the first half.

Smooth game - and I’m talking a sweet mid-range jumper from the elbow and a spinning layup in the paint - helped the Vols keep pace with Auburn over the next few minutes. The rest of the Vols’ offense, however, was nowhere near as spectacular. Auburn led, 16-12, and at the time, Fulkerson was 4-of-5 from the field while the rest of the team was 2-of-8.

Auburn’s perimeter game was alive and it helped the Tigers maintain a two-possession lead over the next few minutes. The wildest part was the fact that the Vols had yet to take a shot from the free throw line and the game was at the 7:58 mark by this point. Auburn was mixing efficient offense with disciplined defense, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Vols away.

That changed quickly, however, as Auburn began to set the tone. The Tigers were scoring quick and were easily outpacing the Vols, which was causing Tennessee to turn the ball over. Tennessee had just one turnover in the first 10 minutes of the game, but had five over the last six minutes as Auburn’s lead grew to 31-23 with 4:00 left in the first half. Another Doughty three grew the Tigers’ lead to 34-23 and the Vols were in the midst of a 5:30 scoring drought.

A big reason for the offensive inefficiency is because Fulkerson collected his second foul of the first half, which caused him to sit at the 4:34 mark. He was brought back in around the 2:24 mark while the Vols were down, 34-25.

Auburn began to turn up the intensity on defense, which helped the team cruise to a 42-31 lead at halftime. The Tigers finished the first half with eight forced turnovers (of which six were steals) and 11 points of those turnovers. 16 additional points in the paint, a (+11) rebound margin, and a 37.5% mark from the perimeter were creating all kinds of issues for the Vols.

Doughty led the Tigers with 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting that included a 3-of-5 hit rate from 3. Fulkerson led the Vols with 13 points, but hadn’t attempted a shot since the first seven minutes of the first half. His last five points came from the charity stripe.

Tennessee would need to completely transform its offense in the second half if it wanted a chance to win, but a lot if the issues over the last few minutes arose from Auburn’s intense defense. Fulkerson was the only reason the team wasn’t embarrassed in the first half. Regardless, it would be interesting to see how Rick Barnes would adjust at halftime.

It’s not like Tennessee’s postseason hopes depended on it or anything.

Auburn came out and made its first bucket on its first possession of the second half, but the Vols were able to cut the Tigers’ lead to single digits by the 17:30 mark.

But Tennessee just couldn’t get anything past Auburn’s defense. The Tigers’ lead eventually grew to 54-37, with 13:43 left in the game.

We saw a thrilling, 17-point comeback against the Kentucky Wildcats a few nights ago. Could the Vols pull off another miracle against the Tigers?

Well, Tennessee made things interesting pretty quickly with a 14-3 run that involved a big technical foul on McLemore. All of a sudden, the Vols were down by 57-51 with 11:50 left in the game.

The Vols were 5-of-5 from the floor over the last two minutes, including 3-of-3 from the perimeter. Jalen Johnson got the party started and Santiago Vescovi followed up with two straight beauties from the arc.

Tennessee pulled within five points off a sick Fulkerson follow-up dunk, but a smart pass from Purifoy to Doughty in the corner allowed Doughty to drop it in the bucket to put the Tigers up by eight, 61-53.

Foul trouble started to present itself for the Tigers. McLemore, Okoro, and Wiley all had four fouls with 9:36 left in the game. It was a situation that could certainly have an effect on the outcome of the game, so the Tigers had to adjust.

And adjust they did. A few quick buckets had Auburn on a 10-3 run and back up, 68-56 with 8:12 left in the game. The Tigers are a team of runs and they can kill you at their peak.

Tennessee never got any closer and would go on to lose, 85-63. It was a disappointing end for Senior Day and another disappointing loss at the hands of the Tigers.

The Vols finish with an official regular-season record of (17-14, 9-9) and now await their fate when it comes to seeding in the SEC Tournament. The results should come out Sunday, March 7.

You can check out the final score and stats here.