Tennessee entered Saturday’s game against Auburn looking to put back to back wins together for the first time in a few weeks. The Volunteers have been struggling down the stretch, sputtering offensively as we creep closer to March.
Against Auburn, those struggles continued.
Tennessee connected on just nine field goals and racked up eight turnovers in the first half. They were kept alive by some hot shooting from three-point range, hitting 6-12 attempts to open the game. Santiago Vescovi and Jaden Springer were both able to get two to fall, helping to keep pace.
Auburn established a 23-18 lead with 6:25 to play by attacking the rim. The volume-shooting Tigers couldn’t find the bottom of the net from long range early, but they were able to control the game by winning the rebounding battle, particularly on the offensive glass. Auburn’s 11-3 first half advantage in that category loomed large, as Bruce Pearl’s team was able to take a 34-30 lead into the halftime break.
Devan Cambridge and JT Thor kept the offense moving for Auburn out of the break, while Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson tried to keep pace. Keon cut the Auburn lead down to two points at the 14 minute mark with a physical finish at the rim through contact. John Fulkerson tied the game at 43 on the following possession.
Intensity had picked up in a big way, with both sides locked up in a physical matchup.
A quick run from Auburn had things in doubt as the clock ticked under ten minutes to play. Cambridge hit again from outside, and Jamal Johnson hit another. Allen Flanigan added another three, and then attacked the rim and got to the free throw stripe on the next trip.
Things had quickly spiraled on Tennessee, who simply didn’t have the offense to keep up with an Auburn team that was missing star guard Sharife Cooper. Down nine points with a little over five minutes to play, this one felt out of reach.
Johnson and Yves Pons did what they could to erase the deficit, though. Johnson hit a corner three and Pons connected on a short-range jumper to get the Auburn lead to six, but Tennessee couldn’t get the stops on the other end. Johnson and Springer made Auburn sweat in the closing minutes, but it wasn’t enough.
Auburn went on to beat Tennessee for a staggering sixth consecutive time. The Volunteers continue to show that their offensive struggles aren’t going away anytime soon, and they’ve run out of time to get things on track.
Tennessee finishes with a home game against Florida next Sunday, March 7th. The SEC Tournament will take place during the following week, leading us into Selection Sunday on March 14th.