Detrick Mostella drives past Auburn's Tyler Harris on Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena.
Nashville, Tenn.--A year after making an impressive run in the SEC Basketball Tournament, Auburn's season ended with a lopsided loss to the Tennessee Volunteers.
The Tigers played four games last March at Bridgestone Arena in the league tournament before heading home after losing to the then unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats in the tournament semi-finals. On Wednesday night the Vols jumped on Auburn early and coasted to a 97-59 victory in the rubber match between the teams which had split the regular season series with homecourt victories.
Tennessee shot well early in the contest and never really cooled. For the game the Vols made 58.6 percent of their field goals while nailing 10 of 25 three pointers.
In sharp contrast the Tigers struggled with their shooting throughout the night. They hit 29.8 percent of their field goals and struggled big-time on three-pointers, making just 4-24.
"I am disappointed with our play, but not with the direction of our program," Coach Bruce Pearl said. "I do think we made some progress--not as much as I wanted to, not as much as I was expecting."
Bruce Pearl reacts to what he saw on Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena.
The Auburn coach had praise for the Volunteers and was impressed with how they beat Auburn's man to man defense by taking AU players off the dribble and attacking the basket. "It was a little bit of a surprise, but they did it in Knoxville," he pointed out. "It was the same group that did it again. We couldn’t keep them in front of us. Tennessee is hard to guard, they are hard to stay in front of. Horace Spencer is my only rim protector we have so when they got in there they finished.”
Pearl was happy with his team's finish last year in Nashville, but that was not the case on Wednesday night as a crowd of 9,897 watched the Tigers struggle from start to finish. "Difficult game, a very difficult season," he said. "Tennessee got off to a great start. Offensively, they were able to do pretty much what they wanted the whole game."
Junior guard T.J. Dunans led the Tigers in scoring with 17 points, but playing the point guard spot he finished with just one assist to go with two turnovers. Dunans described his team's defensive effort as "lackadaisical" and noted that the poor start affected the team offensively.
T.J. Dunans grabs a rebound vs. the Volunteers.
Spencer said the Tigers didn't show the mental toughness needed to win. "They punched us in the mouth to start the game and we didn't punch back," said the freshman center who scored five points, pulled in three rebounds and blocked one shot. "To tell the truth, we had it coming the way we played. I don't know what happened. You can't ever explain how you lose like that."
Auburn’s only other player who scored in double figures, Tyler Harris, contributed 14 points and nine rebounds in his final college game.
"They did a great job of attacking us and attacking and looking for the shooters," Harris said. "They knocked down a lot of threes and everything in the first half and continued to drive at us. That's what they do."
Armani Moore led the Vols with 22 points as he hit 10-13 field goals. Detrick Mostella chipped in with 17 points and four assists and three rebounds.
T.J. Lang drives to the basket vs. the Volunteers. The sophomore scored five points while adding three rebounds.
The Vols jumped to a quick start, scoring the first 10 points before T.J. Lang put in a rebound at the 16:26 mark. The lead ballooned to 18-4 at the 12:04 mark prompting Pearl to call at timeout after a 6-0 run by the Vols.
The strategy didn’t work as the Volunteers continued to build their lead to as many as 22 points at 39-17.
The Vols did much of their damage near the basket, outscoring the Tigers 22-8 in the opening half with points in the paint.
Halftime Numbers: The Vols led 44-25 at the break thanks to a huge difference in the shooting numbers. Auburn hit just 8-31 field goals (31.8 percent), 3-13 threes and 6-9 free throws. The Vols made 18-33 field goals (54.5 percent), 4-13 threes and 4-9 free throws
Auburn led 22-20 in rebounds during the opening half and turned the ball over six times, three more than the Vols who got 14 points from Armani Moore and 10 from Detrick Mostella. T.J. Dunans and Bryce Brown led the Tigers in first half scoring with five points apiece.
Bryce Brown, who scored 38 points in the first two games vs. Tennessee, finished the game with seven points. The freshman was 1-9 on field goals.
Tennessee kept the pressure on the second half by making 64 percent of its shots in the final 20 minutes to extend the lead and improve its record to 14-18 heading into Thursday’s game vs. Vanderbilt. The Tigers finished their season with 11 wins and 20 losses.
The Vols out-rebounded Auburn 36-34 and the turnovers were almost even, too. Auburn finished with 11 while the Vols had 10.
“I thought it was really a great team for us,” Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes, who credited his teams seniors with putting forth a big effort to extend their season.
"I don't think you ever go into a game thinking you are going to beat someone by that margin and we didn't think that," Barnes said. "We just talked about execution. It really got down to an attitude that we just simply, for the last couple of days of practice, we have competed...They communicated the best they have all year in practice and we talked about this time of year."
Pearl said he is going to continue to push forward to get his program performing at a higher level. "I am very disappointed in our play at times," he said. "I didn't think we played together offensively and there times when teams played harder than we did. Tennessee played harder than we did tonight--they wanted it more, and as a result they got it."
Worth Noting, Part 1: UT’s bench outscored Auburn’s subs 33-15.
Worth Noting, Part 2: The Tigers were 1-11 on three-point attempts in the second half, definitely not the way to mount a comeback.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Harris, a graduate student transfer, said despite the team's disappointing record, his experience with the Tigers was a good one. "I learned a lot from being at Auburn," he said. "I am going to take that with me as I get myself into the real world."
Stat of the Game: Auburn finished the game with four assists while the Volunteers had 20.