Bruce Pearl (above) didn't have much to be happy about on Tuesday at Auburn Arena.
Auburn, Ala.--Tennessee jumped on Auburn early and held on in the second half for an 87-77 SEC basketball victory on Tuesday night.
The Vols’ physical style of play and strong rebounding bothered Auburn in the first half. The Tigers managed to outscore the visitors 47-41 in the second half, but it was too little, too late.
“I thought the first half we played really well early,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We wanted to be aggressive.”
Auburn dropped to 14-8 overall and 3-6 in the SEC.
For the Vols it was a fourth consecutive victory, moving them to 5-4 in the SEC and 13-9 overall.
Auburn got 21 points from Jared Harper, 15 off the bench from Ronnie Johnson and 12 from Mustpaha Heron on a night the Tigers made just 25-66 field goals (37.9 percent).
The Vols hit 28-63 field goals (44.4 percent) and really helped their cause by nailing 9-16 three-pointers. Auburn launched 26 three-pointers and made nine.
Tennessee also helped its cause by out-rebounding the Tigers 43-35. Anfernee McLemore came off the bench to pull in 11 rebounds for Auburn while adding nine points as he hit 3-4 field goals in 19 minutes.
Asked about the slow start, McLemore said, “They just ran their stuff and we had a hard time executing ours. It is something we should have paid more attention to trying to stop instead of letting them go through their stuff too easily.”
Harper said, “They just basically did a good job of running their offense and they beat us to a lot of 50-50 balls. They out-rebounded us. That is something we have to fix on our end.”
The Tigers were 18-25 at the foul line while the Vols made 9-16.
Admiral Schofield came off the bench to lead the Vols in scoring with 18 points while adding seven rebounds. Grant Williams added 17 points, Jordan Bowen scored 15 and Robert Hubbs III added 11 points.
Coach Bruce Pearl called the loss very disappointing and said the practices leading up to the game were not as good as the Tigers needed and it showed Tuesday night. “Tennessee with greater effort, greater energy, greater purpose,”?he said. "They typically start very well in games and we knew that coming in, and we turned the ball over a lot early.
“We were not getting any stops at all in the first half and Tennessee had their way with us,” Pearl added. "A win we are in fifth or six place. A loss and we are in 11th or 12th place. We knew it was going to be a big swing so we are very disappointed."
Ronnie Johnson is shown in action on Tuesday night playing defensive vs. Kwe Parker.
Tennessee scored a three-pointer on its opening possession and it didn’t get much better for the Tigers in a first half in which the home team was dominated.
The Tigers trailed 46-30 at the break despite 18 points from Harper, who hit 5-9 field goals, including 5-7 three-pointers. However, the rest of his teammates struggled in all phases of the game.
Auburn was out-shot 51.4 percent from the field to 28.6 percent. The Vols were on target from long range, making 4-7 threes while Auburn hit 6-17.
Rebounding was a major issue, too, as the Vols pulled down 24, 10 more than Auburn.
Auburn steadily chipped into the Tennessee lead in the second, but whenever the Tigers seemed to build momentum for a potential big scoring run the Volunteers answered with a three-pointer or another good play.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Auburn outscored the Vols 32-24 for points in the paint, but that was overcome by a 12-4 advantage in fastbreak points by the visitors.
Worth Noting, Part 2: The Vols have now won three consecutive matchups vs. the Tigers.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Pearl said the Tigers wanted to take advantage of center Austin Wiley’s size advantage in the post, but noted the team did a poor job of getting him the basketball. Wiley, who scored 25 points on Saturday vs. TCU, finished with five points and was 1-2 on field goals.
Worth Noting, Part 4: One of the highlights for the Tigers was another good performance from McLemore, the freshman backup center. “It is just going through the season and getting more comfortable with college play and having a nice little taste of having Austin (Wiley) there knowing I can play as hard as I can and he can come in and give quality minutes at the same time," McLemore said. " It just gives me more steam to play harder.”
Stat of the Game: In the first half only three Auburn players made a field goal. Harper had five, Heron two and McLemore one. Eight different Vols scored a field goal in the opening period.
Up Next: The Tigers will be in Tuscaloosa for a 7:30 p.m. rematch vs. Alabama. Auburn defeated the Tide 84-64 on Jan 21.