Knoxville, Tenn.--Bruce Pearl’s much anticipated return to Thompson-Boling Arena, where he spent six successful seasons as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, did not end the way the Auburn basketball coach wanted.
After seeing his team lead by as many as eight points in the first half and five in the second period, Auburn fell 71-63 to the Volunteers before a crowd of 18,349, many who gave Pearl a standing ovation when he entered the arena.
Pearl said that while his time in Knoxville was special, other than attending an event for a local charity he has sponsored for many years, the road trip was like any other one.
“I get so focused in my routine with the exception of last night’s fundraiser I just do what I do,” said Pearl, who was hired by the Tigers in March to take over the program after Tony Barbee was fired.
“I am Auburn’s basketball coach,” Pearl said. “I am proud to be Auburn’s basketball coach. What we did at Tennessee was special, but it is history--done. I am trying to make new history. It (going back to Tennessee) is not as hard for me as you might think it was.
“I still have great friends, family and affection (for Knoxville), but this place also fired me,” Pearl pointed out. “I gave them cause (NCAA sanctions). They could have stayed with me and chose not to. It is not all hearts and flowers, and hoops and giggles. I am a competitor. We have got to move on.
“My biggest concern, truly, is those kids in that locker room,” Pearl added. “We had to go through why we got beat.
Pearl yells instruction to the Tigers on Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena, where his Tigers lost 71-63 to fall to 10-11 for the season.
“If guys are going to have to play heavy minutes we have got to be in unbelievable shape,” the coach said. “We have got to push our conditioning, our rest and how we prepare to play. I did kind of indicate to them that next season we won’t lose games at the end. I thought Tennessee was a little fresher, a little bit more furious, bouncier.”
Pearl added, “I told them I was proud of them. I told them it was the second road game in a row where we were in position to win the game and that is what you want to do. The Tigers lost their previous road game a week earlier, 57-55, to Alabama.
“Now we have to figure out a way to go into LSU on Thursday, against all of that size, and just stay in the game on the road and have a chance.
“This is a basketball team that is competing,” Pearl said. “I want more, but this is not a basketball team that is losing because we are underachieving.”Auburn at Tennessee Game Report
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