Free Throws Allow Vols to Escape With A Win

Tennessee outscored the Tigers 27-10 at the foul line to avoid an SEC basketball upset on Senior Night at Auburn Arena.

Auburn, Ala.--Tennessee rallied in the second half with the help of foul shots, dozens of foul shots, as the Vols won their seventh consecutive SEC basketball game and spoiled Auburn's Senior Night by a score of 82-75.

The officiating crew of Antinio Petty, Mike Kitts and Patrick Evans sent the Volunteers to the foul line for 38 free throws and helped keep alive UT's chances of earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Vols made 27 of those opportunities.

Auburn shot a better percentage at the foul line, but only got a dozen opportunities, making 10.

"I have never seen a stat sheet like this," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. "We had four more field goals, two more threes and a team takes 26 more foul shots than you do. I have never seen that before. It was the difference in the ball game."

Senior Frankie Sullivan broke out of his scoring slump and finished with a game-high 24 points. Another senior guard, Josh Wallace, scored 14 points for the Tigers.

For the game the Tigers shot 50.9 percent from the field, making 28-55. The Tigers were 9-26 on threes.

The Vols shot 42.9 percent from the field, hitting 24-56 field goals. Tennessee made 7-20 threes. Trae Golden and Jordan McCrae scored 21 points apiece to lead Tennessee while Jarnell Stokes added 11 points and 12 rebounds.

Frankie Sullivan drives to the basket vs. the Vols.

Auburn led 35-32 at halftime and built the margin to six points at the 16:48 mark of the second half. The Vols took the lead for good at the 9:16 mark on a three-pointer by Skylar McBee to make the score 62-60.

The visitors built the lead to 77-64 at the 3:27 mark on a pair of free throws by McRae. Auburn cut the gap to six on a three-pointer by Noel Johnson with 1:23, but could not get any closer.

Tennessee finished with a 33-30 rebounding advantage and had just eight turnovers while the Tigers had 16 turnovers with seven coming by Sullivan, who said those miscues lessened the impact of his big scoring night.

Wallace's final game at Auburn Arena was a strong performance. The former walk-on was 5-7 shooting from the field, 4-4 at the foul line and he added four assists, one steal and just two turnovers in 33 minutes before fouling out with the help of several calls in the second that were difficult to explain.

"He gave everything he could to win this game," Barbee said of Wallace. "If you transplant Josh's heart into every player in the game you would have some heck of a player out there...He thinks he is six-foot-nine and 250 pounds when he looks in the mirror."

Wallace said the result was a disappointing one. "It hurts, it hurts, I wanted to go out with a win," he said. "I wanted to give the fans a win...The whole team wanted this one."

Asked about the way the game was called, the point guard said, "You just can't dwell on it. The refs call fouls and you just have to keep playing."

Sullivan had praise for Wallace. "That guy is a fighter," the senior said. "He is a little lion and I love him to death. He has become my best friend since I got here and I am pretty sure we are going to be friends until the day we die. He puts it all out there every time he steps on the court and you have got to love that."

Tennessee is expected to go into the SEC Tournament next week as a bubble team for an NCAA Tournament bid. The Vols improved their record to 19-11 overall and 11-7 in the SEC. Auburn fell to 9-21 overall and 3-14 in the league. The Tigers have lost eight straight games with their last win coming on Feb. 6th vs. Alabama.

Starting Lineup: Walk-on senior Dylan Spencer made his first college start on Senior Night and hit a three-pointer. He played the first four minutes and did not return to the contest. The other starters were seniors Sullivan, Josh Wallace, Rob Chubb and Noel Johnson.

Halftime Stats: Auburn shot 13-28 from the field for 46.8 percent. The Tigers were 4-13 on threes and 5-6 on free throws. UT hit 11-29 from the field for 37.9 percent, 4-10 on threes and 6-14 at the foul line.

At the break Auburn held an 18-17 edge in rebounds and turned the ball over eight times, three more than the Vols.

Wallace led the Tigers in first half scoring with 10 points, Sullivan added seven, Jordan Price scored six and Asahuhn Dixon-Tatum had three. Spencer scored three while Chubb and Brian  Greene had apiece.

Worth Noting, Part 1: Chris Denson was a no-go for the game due to hurting his back in practice. Barbee did not say when the junior would be ready to play, but noted Denson tried to play on Wednesday but could not do it."

Worth Noting, Part 2: Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said he warned his players to expect a tough battle with it being Senior Night for the Tigers. "I even said to the guys before the game started it would go down to the wire because of what's at stake. Those guys played with emotion."

Up Next: The Tigers close the regular season with a 4:30 p.m. game on Saturday at Mississippi State.

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