The victory improved the Tigers to 10-9 overall and 1-5 in the Southeastern Conference, assuring Auburn of not becoming the first SEC basketball team to not win a conference game since former league member Georgia Tech went 0-14 in 1953-54.
"It is good for the kids," Lebo said after his players celebrated the victory in the locker room. "They will have a different look about them and a different feel about them. Their head will be up a little bit higher. A win does that for you.
"It's nice to go to practice after a W," Lebo added. "It is nice to go recruiting. Everything is better after a W, I will tell you that. Your wife talks to you."
Auburn's last victory came on Dec. 30th when the Tigers defeated Belmont 73-69 in the final non-conference game on the schedule. "People feel bad for you," Lebo said when talking about the losing streak. "They kind of just glance at you and put their head down. They will look at me for at least two days, Monday and Tuesday here, and say hello."
Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said Auburn played well, but noted that his team was its own worst enemy at times. The UT coach said he was particularly disappointed that 6-10, 250-pound center Major Wingate was ineffective much of the game against the much-smaller Auburn front line.
Wingate took just two field goals and missed them both. He added only three rebounds, which is one of the reasons the Tigers held their own on the boards, losing that battle by a manageable 34-31 margin. "Major Wingate didn't even show up and I thought that is where we could take advantage of them," Peterson said.
Auburn countered UT's size advantage by changing defenses and double-teaming the ball when it went inside to the Vol big men. Peterson said at times his team handled that tactic with some good passes to the open man, but much of the game it didn't.
"It was an uphill battle much of the time figuring out what we were going to do offensively," Peterson said.
Peterson said when the game was on the line in the final minutes, his team didn't do a good job of keeping Auburn off the boards and handling the basketball.
A turnover was one of the big plays of the game. With Auburn nursing a 53-51 lead with just two points scored during a seven-minute stretch, senior Nathan Watson stepped in a passing lane, stole the ball and went coast to coast for a layup in traffic to put the Tigers up by four points with 1:44 left.
Good defense by the Tigers gave the home team a chance to expand the lead and that happened with 47 seconds left when senior guard Ian Young drilled a three-pointer from the wing to make the score 58-51.
UT's Scooter McFadgon, who hit just 5-19 field goals, made two free throws with 30.2 seconds left to cut the lead to five. However, Auburn answered with Young hitting both ends of a one-and-one free throw situation with 15.3 seconds left after UT intentionally fouled five times in a row to get the Tigers to a one-and-one situation with the seventh team foul.
Watson hit both shots to make the lead six points. The Vols hit a three with a half second remaining to cut the final margin to 62-59.
Tennessee fell to 10-10 overall and 3-4 in the SEC. UT coach Peterson said, "If you had told me we would hold Toney Douglas to five points and Ian Young goes two of 10, I would like I our chances but those other guys stepped up for them."
Nathan Watson scores after a steal to put the Tigers up by four late in the game.
The Tigers hit 50 percent of their shots in the second half and finished with 10 turnovers, one less than the visitors. Auburn was 6-20 on threes and 10-13 at the foul line. UT hit 17-20 free throws and 6-17 threes.
Quinnel Brown led Auburn on the boards with eight rebounds and did a good job on Wingate while also scoring 11 points. "I think early I was kind of physical with him and I don't think he liked the physical play like our coach was saying," the senior said. "As the game would go, he would kinda of like think about coming down there every once in a while."
Brown said it feels good to get that first SEC victory. "You should have heard us in the locker room," he said.
Auburn came out as icy as the weather. The Tigers trailed 9-0 before Daniel Hayles scored on a short bank shot five minutes and 40 seconds into the action. The freshman had one of his best games with 10 points, four rebounds and two blocked shots.
The Tigers managed to pull even at 11-11 at the 11:07 mark of the first half on a reverse layup by walk-on Moses Edun, one of 10 players Lebo used in the first half.
However, the Tigers couldn't pull ahead and Vols made a 10-2 run with the help of foul trouble against the Tigers, who put the visitors into the foul shooting bonus situation at the 10:23 mark.
The Tigers trimmed the lead to 23-20 on a 12-footer by Toney Douglas at the 9:01 mark, the first shot of the game for Auburn's leading scorer who got into early foul trouble with a pair of fouls at the 15:53 mark of the first half.
Daniel Hayles plays defense on a Vol player in Saturday's game. Hayles was a big reason why the Tigers earned their first win in SEC play.
At halftime the score was tied 28-28. The Tigers outshot the Vols 39.3 percent to 31.6 percent in the first half and tied the Vols with 17 rebounds. UT was 13-15 at the foul line in the half while Auburn was 4-6. Brown led the Tigers with seven points C.J. Watson scored eight for the visitors. He finished with a team-high 17 points, hitting 5-9 field goals, including 3-5 three-pointers.
Auburn took its first lead of the game at the 18:45 mark on a three-pointer from Watson at the top of the key.
The Tigers built the margin to 51-45 at the 8:51 mark when Peterson got a technical foul for protesting an offensive goal-tending call on his team. After the game the coach said it was a good call, but noted he wanted his team to get fired up after the technical.
UT turned up the intensity defensively and Auburn didn't score again until Brown got an inside basket with 2:44 left to put the Tigers ahead 53-51.
Ian Young scored 11 points for the Tigers and hit two clutch free throws.
Auburn never trailed after that, much to the delight of the unusually small SEC game crowd of 3,828. There was double-trouble times two with the turnout. A combination of television coverage, an ice storm, a five-game losing streak plus competition for TV coverage with the Senior Bowl featuring Auburn football players probably significantly lowered the crowd size. However, the ones who made it to the coliseum gave the team a standing ovation for its first league victory.
The Tigers will return to action on Wednesday night at Ole Miss. Tipoff is 7 p.m. for the game that will not be televised. Ole Miss won the first game between the two teams this season by a 79-72 score.