The No. 2 ranked team in the nation was back in action this afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena, looking to bounce back from an ugly loss to Florida. They welcomed Bruce Pearl back to town, who brought his 25th ranked Auburn team to Knoxville.
Tennessee’s offensive struggles continued out of the gates, as the Volunteers fell behind in the opening five minutes of play. Auburn jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the opening five minutes of play, capitalizing on a 2-13 start from the field by Tennessee.
Just like the game against Florida though, the Vols settled in fairly quickly. Seven quick points from Josiah-Jordan James made it a one-point game, then Uros Plavsic gave Tennessee their first lead at 13-12.
Auburn had gone ice cold, thanks to Tennessee’s No. 1 ranked defense. The Tigers would miss their next ten shots from the field, allowing the Volunteers to get ahead midway through the first half.
Tennessee held Auburn to 23 percent shooting in the first half. Despite getting zero points from Santiago Vescovi or Zakai Zeigler, the Volunteers took a 23-19 lead into the halftime break.
Once again, Tennessee’s elite defense was carrying them. The offense got out to another slow start to begin the second half, with nothing happening in the paint and nothing falling from deep. With 15 minutes left to play, Tennessee was just 1-11 from three-point range. Thankfully for the Volunteers, Auburn was just 1-15 at the time.
We had us a good, old-fashioned rock fight on our hands.
Auburn’s Allen Flanigan tied the game at 28-28 with 14 minutes left. Tobe Awaka broke that tie with a putback, then came up with a block at the other end. James and Vescovi hit jumpers to give Tennessee a little bit of a cushion as the cluck ticked under ten minutes to play.
K.D. Johnson stopped an 8-0 Tennessee run to keep Auburn alive, but with the way this defense was playing, Bruce Pearl’s group was going to need some outside shots to start falling — and quickly.
The lack of offense continued for both sides, as Tennessee simply maintained a six point advantage over the next several minutes. Josiah-Jordan James was all Tennessee had offensively, and he was single-handedly keeping the Volunteers ahead in this one.
With 4:28 to play, Johnson cut the Tennessee lead to 40-36.
Auburn cut it to just two points with under three minutes to play, but Santiago Vescovi hit a three — and got fouled. Santi converted the four-point play to take us to a 44-38 score, and that sequence felt like the nail in Auburn’s coffin.
But it certainly wasn’t.
Wendell Green drilled a three with 30 seconds left to keep Auburn alive, and then Tennessee couldn’t beat a trap on the following possession. Pearl’s press got the Volunteers to turn the ball over, and Auburn had their shot to tie. Johni Broome connected on a layup to cut the lead to 43-42.
Zakai Zeigler hit two free throws to re-establish the three point lead.
Wendell Green’s prayer was not answered as the clock struck zero. Green jumped into Olivier Nkamhoua on the shot, but the whistle he was looking for never came.
Final score: Tennessee 46, Auburn 43.
It was another ugly day for the Tennessee offense, which is a shame, because they put on another elite performance defensively. Auburn shot just 23 percent from the field, going 3-27 from three point range. Tennessee shot 27 percent, going just 2-21 from three-point range. It was ugly, but the Volunteers found a way.
Josiah-Jordan James with 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Tennessee, now 19-4 overall, will travel to Nashville to face Vanderbilt on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET). They’ll host Missouri next Saturday.