Robert Hubbs (above) is Tennessee's leading scorer.
Auburn, Ala.--Looking to build momentum following a solid road victory at TCU on Saturday, the Auburn Tigers return to SEC action with an 8 p.m. CST home game on Tuesday vs. a Tennessee team on a three-game winning streak.
Tennessee will bring a 12-9 record and a 4-4 league mark into the contest to face Auburn, which is 14-7 overall and 3-5 in the SEC. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
On Saturday the Tigers were 88-80 winners in Fort Worth, Tex., in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, the same day Tennessee defeated visiting Kansas State 70-58 in the same event.
“We have just got to come out and be physical,” said Auburn’s leading scorer, Mustapha Heron, who notes that the Vols play a physical style of basketball. “We know that they are going to hit us so we can’t fall over.”
Heron is averaging 15.4 points per game and a team-leading 6.1 rebounds per contest. He is one of four Auburn freshmen averaging double figures for scoring.
Following a 25-point outburst vs. TCU, center Austin Wiley is averaging 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds. Point guard Jared Harper is averaging 12.4 points and 2.8 assists while freshman forward Danjel Purify is at 11.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per outing.
The Vols are led by 6-5 senior guard Robert Hubbs III, who is averaging 15 points and 5.1 rebounds. The other scorer in double figures is 6-5 forward Grant Williams, a freshman who is averaging 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds.
“We know the task that is in front of us,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Tennessee has some really key weapons. Hubbs is a first-team all-conference kind of a player as a senior. They go to him. He’s a really tough cover, he is a physical player, and that is going to be an interesting matchup for us.
“Probably the least heralded of the freshmen coming in in this recruiting class was the Williams kid from Charlotte,” Pearl said. “He is a 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6 hard-playing center, under-sized power forward, big small forward, incredibly versatile, and his maturity and his growth as a player has really put them where they’re a really competitive team.
“They are playing nine guys,” Pearl added. “They have bought in, they are dialed in and so it will be a great matchup.”
Pearl, the former head coach of the Vols, is 1-3 at Auburn in games vs. Tennessee. The Tigers played the Vols three times last season. Auburn won 83-77 in the SEC opener at Auburn Arena, lost 71-63 at Knoxville and fell 97-59 in the opening round of the 2016 SEC Tournament in Knoxville. Pearl has a 3-3 record matchups vs. UT coach Rick Barnes.
Pearl said he is impressed with Tennessee’s defensive play. “They all guard. The thing about every one of their players is they can keep you in front of them. They challenge every shot. They are really solid and that’s why they are so good.
“They are a really good offensive rebounding team as well,”?he added. “Again, the matchups for us that are probably the most difficult matchups are going to be the small and power forward matchups.”