Photography: Marvin Gentry

Three-Point Shooting Success Pushes Auburn Past Vols In SEC Basketball Opener

Auburn made a dozen three-pointers to open the SEC basketball season with a victory over the Tennessee Volunteers.

Tyler Harris (above) helped Auburn to victory with a double-double for points and rebounds.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn out-scored Tennessee by 27 points from three-point range as the Tigers won their SEC basketball opener 83-77 on Saturday at Auburn Arena.

Auburn hit 12-26 treys while the Volunteers were just 3-28 behind the three-point arc. That allowed the Tigers to overcome a 48-37 rebounding deficit as well as 17 turnovers, five more than the Volunteers.

Overall, the Tigers outshot the Vols 52.8 percent to 38.0 percent from the field, which helped overcome an off-day at the foul line with Auburn making just 15-27 attempts while the Vols made 14-19.

“It’s been a long time since we have beaten Tennessee,” Coach Bruce Pearl said. The last time it happened, Pearl was in charge of the UT program, but since that Auburn victory the Vols won nine-in-a-row dating back to the 2009 SEC Tournament.

“That one there we had to have,”? said Pearl, whose team had lost two straight games in Hawaii to Harvard and the University of Hawaii after opening the Diamond Head Classic with a victory over New Mexico.

“I thought we defended extremely well," Pearl said. "I thought that Tennessee could beat us from three, but not from two. Whether we challenged their shots at three or they just missed a lot of them, I don’t know, but that was part of our game plan.

“Offensively, we did a pretty good job executing to be able to shoot 53 percent,” the coach added.

Photography: Marvin Gentry

Senior Jordon Granger blocks a shot vs. the Vols.

Pearl said that Tennessee deserves credit for doing a good job rebounding and taking advantage of its athleticism, but added, “We have got to do a better job of competing on the boards. Those are two of the smaller teams in the league. They aren’t very big and we aren’t either.”

Junior Kareem Canty and freshman Bryce Brown led the Tigers with 20 points apiece. Canty hit 7-12 field goals and 5-8 threes. Brown hit 6-10 shots and 5-9 threes.

With Auburn down at the break, Brown changed that in a hurry. He nailed a three-pointer 10 seconds into the second half to put Auburn up 37-36. The freshman followed that with a two-point basket on Auburn’s next possession and nailed another three at the 18:58 mark to make the score 42-36.

The Tigers got a double-double from Tyler Harris, who finished the game with 19 points and game-high 13 rebounds. No other Auburn player scored in double figures although Cinmeon Bowers came close with nine points to go with five rebounds.

Before the game Pearl admitted that getting a win over his former employer was a high priority, something the players noted they were well aware of heading into the SEC opener. “It felt good so he could relax a little bit,” Canty said. “He was on our back about every little thing that usually he doesn’t get mad about, but we it turned it loose because it was a big game coming up.”

Harris, whose brother Tobias played for Pearl at Tennessee, agreed that winning was a big deal. “I wanted to beat them just as bad as Bruce wanted to beat them,” the senior forward said. “That will give me something to talk about and brag on to my brother. I was glad we were able to get the win and do it for BP. I know he wanted that.”

Pearl said he was excited to get the win, but noted that last year’s matchup in Knoxville was “more emotional” because of the time and energy he had expended in building the program at Tennessee.

Auburn led most of the first half and built the margin to as many as a dozen points at the 8:58 mark, but turnovers and fouls allowed the Vols to make a run and take a two-point advantage at halftime.

Halftime Numbers: The Tigers led for 17:32 of the first 20 minutes, but trailed 36-34 at the break. Canty led the Tigers in scoring with 13 points while Harris added nine. Kevin Punter led the Vols with 18 first half points before going on to score a game-high 31.

Auburn hit 12-26 field goals (46.2 percent) while UT made 13-38 (34.2 percent). Auburn was 5-15 on threes and 5-10 at the foul line while the Vols made 1-13 threes and 9-9 free throws. UT helped its cause by out-rebounding Auburn 23-19 in the first half and forcing 10 Auburn turnovers while committing just five.

Pearl said he appreciated the support from the fans as 8,614 watched at Auburn Arena. “It was a great crowd being on break,” the coach said.

Photography: Marvin Gentry

Kareem Canty shoots a three-point shot for the Tigers.

He also had praise for freshman guard Brown. “This is what is exciting about Bryce Brown,”?Pearl said. “He is a great shooter, but he is also a great defender. To be a young player and to be able to do those two things, he is going to play a lot of basketball here at Auburn and put up a lot of numbers.”

Senior Jordon Granger played 33 minutes in a reserve role and chipped in with seven points, five rebounds, two blocks, two steals and one assist.

Pearl noted that Granger showed leadership skills in practice making sure his teammates understand the importance of conference play. “He has a big role on our team right now and it is a completely different position right now,” the coach said. “Jordon is playing a guard spot because we are so banged up at the guard spot.” Last season Granger was a starting at forward.

Worth Noting, Part 1: T.J. Lang collided with a Tennessee player while going for a loose ball at the end of the first half and did not return. He is being treated for concussion-like symptoms.

Worth Noting, Part 2: Brown posted a second-straight 20-point game. The freshman did it in 24 minutes of playing time.

Worth Noting, Part 3: Pearl had praise for the play of sophomore walk-on point guard Patrick Keim, who played nine minutes. Keim was 0-2 shooting, but played good defense, the coach said, while adding two assists and one steal without a turnover. “Pat Keim stepped up in a big way,” Pearl said. “He brought us great energy, great effort. One thing about Pat, I know he will defend and you have a guy out there defending like that it is contagious. He does for us what Tahj Shamsid-Deen does.”

Worth Noting, Part 4: Freshman Horace Spencer fouled out after playing 18 minutes. He had four points and five rebounds. “We are better defensively with him on the floor,” Pearl said. “When he wasn’t on the floor we had a hard time rebounding.”

Worth Noting, Part 5: Canty produced his eighth 20-point game of the season.

Worth Noting, Part 6:  Pearl has now defeated every SEC team during his head-coaching career and is 1-1 vs. the Vols.

Worth Noting, Part 7: Auburn is now 4-0 in home games televised on CBS, defeating Tennessee 83-77 on Saturday, LSU 67-52 in 2012, Alabama 88-76 in 2008 and Florida 88-69 in 1999.

 Stat of the Game: Auburn hit 63.6 percent of its shots in the second half, including 7-11 from behind the three-point line.

Up Next: The Tigers will play at home on Tuesday at 6 p.m. vs. 13-0 South Carolina, which will be making its SEC debut after defeating Memphis on Saturday night in Columbia. “We have won four of our last five SEC games, can we keep it going?,” Pearl said.

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