The Tennessee Volunteers (15-12, 7-7) headed down to the Plains in hopes of upsetting the 13th-ranked Auburn Tigers (23-4, 10-4) after Bruce Pearl and co. denied the Vols a SEC Championship last year.
Well, things looked pretty good until about the last ten minutes of the game. Tennessee was able to jump out to a 15-point lead in the second half, but sloppy play on offense and tight defense from Auburn changed the tide in the Tigers’ victory.
Jordan Bowden scored a career-high 28 points off of 9-of-12 shooting that included a 3-of-4 mark from the perimeter, but it wasn’t enough to curtail an Auburn offense that was able to do just enough to get by without one of its best players.
Both teams were able to get off to a pretty good start on offense as Auburn rolled out to a 8-5 lead early in the game. The short game from Yves Pons was keeping the Vols in the game and a Bowden three put the Vols ahead, 10-8, with about 16:00 to go in the first half.
Auburn was able to notch it up at 12, but a quick Bowden jumper put the Vols back up by a bucket. Tennessee was playing excellent defense, evidenced by a six-minute bucketless drought from Auburn and a 15-4 scoring run. An excellent steal by Santiago Vescovi and subsequent dish to Bowden for an easy layup pushed Tennessee’s lead to 18-12.
Auburn finally ended the drought soon after thanks to a Samir Doughty layup. The Tigers battled back and the Vols were later called with a questionable technical foul that allowed the Tigers to cut the Vols’ lead to one point.
Sloppy play from the Vols led to Auburn re-taking the lead, 22-21, but Bowden dropped a 3 to put Tennessee back up, 24-22, with 6:58 remaining in the first half.
Bowden continue to carry the Vols. Auburn was able to tie the game back up at 24, but he drilled another one from the perimeter to put his team up by three. The lead eventually grew to 30-24 - which matched the largest of the game to that point - thanks to nine straight points from Bowden.
Tennessee would go on to lead by eight at halftime, 41-33. The team was playing good defense complimented by efficient offense, but they had to limit the turnovers if they wanted to win the game. The shots would eventually start falling for Auburn, most likely.
The Vols’ lead grew to 15 at one point after halftime, but an 18-0 run by the Tigers, and a 6:30 scoring drought from the Vols allowed Auburn to re-take the lead at 55-54 with just over ten minutes to go in the game. Tennessee also turned the ball over seven times in six minutes leading up to that moment.
Tennessee fought back and eventually took a 58-57 lead, but Auburn continued to fight and came back to take a 64-60 lead with 2:54 remaining in the game.
The Tigers’ disruptive defense continued to exploit the Vols’ turnover-prone offense, but Auburn couldn’t make up for it at the free throw line. That allowed the Vols stay within two points, which Bowden eventually tied thanks to a 1-and-1 free throw situation in which he also set a new career-high with 28 points. The game was now tied, 64-64, with under two minutes to go.
But Cambridge hit a 3 off the kick from McCormick on the next possession to put Auburn up, 67-64.
Vescovi was able to hit a layup to bring it within one, but McLemore was able to get an immediate layup on the other end to make it a 69-66 game. Fulkerson then turned it over on the next possession and Auburn subsequently scored to make it a 71-66 game, which basically put things on ice.
Auburn would go on to win, 73-66, which would basically end Tennessee’s postseason hopes as an at-large bid.
The Vols will travel to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks for their next matchup. Tipoff is scheduled for Wednesday, February 26 at 830PM EST.