The Tigers made several early mistake on Wednesday night that the Vols capitalized into points as they raced out to a 20-5 lead, and 22 second half points by sharp-shooting guard Chris Lofton was too much for Auburn to overcome on a night in which the Tigers shot 56.1 percent from the field, 63.2 percent on threes and 92.9 percent from the foul line.
"They're numbers I dream about," Lebo noted. "The difference was the 21-9 in the turnovers, and the points off those turnovers.
"We battled hard," he added. "Lofton continues his hot streak and he's just terrific. They're playing with a great degree of confidence and that was big in this game. Lofton was making plays."
Ronny LeMelle led Auburn in points and rebounds. His 19 points tied a career high and his nine boards set his career high. He also had five assists.
"They're not ranked eighth for nothing," LeMelle said of Tennessee. "They're a good basketball team. They're playing real well together as a team."
Six Volunteers reached double figures in points, led by Lofton with 25. JaJaun Smith and Stanley Asumnu had 19 and 10, respectively, off the bench. Point guard C.J. Watson had a great game with 18 points, eight assists and only two turnovers. Andre Patterson added 15 points and seven rebounds.
"When you win you play with a little more swagger, and they're playing with it," Lebo said. "They're making perimeter shots that are just incredible. Lofton, when he gets going, he makes unbelievably difficult shots. I think the emergence of Patterson has been good for them. He struggled last year, but I think the system fits him well this year."
Lofton hit seven of his team's school-record 16 three pointers. He had just three first half points, but finished as the game's leading scorer after his 15 points down the stretch. He hit 7-11 three pointers against Auburn and has now hit 23-33 in the last three games from long range.
"It's frustrating when you can't do anything about it," Korvotney Barber said. "He's a good shooter. Like Coach said, he's a real good shooter. When you're on, you're on."
Quantez Robertson hit 5-6 threes for a career high 17 points. He had four rebounds and four assists, but also had seven turnovers. Barber had another solid game with 14 points and seven rebounds.
"We just had to work hard and get good shots," Barber said. "If we had taken bad shots they would have shot us out worse than that. Every time I got it I tried to go to the hole with it."
Auburn outscored Tennessee 64-63 in the second half, but the first five minutes of the game proved to be the difference.
The Volunteers got their early 20-5 lead by attacking the paint. Patterson had six points and Major Wingate also had a bucket down low as the Vols led 8-0. Frank Tolbert came off the bench and scored the first Auburn points after nearly four minutes of action. Robertson then hit one of his three first half threes to make the score 10-5.
Tennessee scored the next 10 points to lead 20-5 with 12:28 left in the first half. The Vols didn't commit their first foul or turnover until nearly eight minutes into the game. The Tigers had only attempted six field goals in the first nine minutes because of seven early turnovers, mostly against the press. With Wingate at 6-10 guarding the inbounds pass the Tigers had a difficult time even getting the ball in bounds safely.
"He's so long our guards can't see over his long body," Barber said of Wingate. "I think that had something to do with it--his length and his height."
Korvotney Barber shoots over Andre Patterson.
Despite the turnovers the Tigers hung tight and kept the deficit between seven and 10 points down the stretch of the first half, but the Vols scored the final seven points on a three by Lofton, his only points of the half, a Wingate dunk and lay-up by Watson. Tennessee held a 42-25 halftime advantage.
A three-point play near the beginning of the second half by Auburn forward Josh Dollard cut it to 14, but Tennessee kept pounding it inside and eventually went up 67-46. Even with the 23-point lead Pearl kept the press on and the Tigers were able to beat it for a few consecutive possessions in scoring nine straight to pull within 14.
During the scoring run Auburn had a couple of blocked shots, one by Barber and a spectacular block by Robertson on a dunk attempt by Smith.
"That got us back in it on defense," Barber said of Robertson's block. "I thought he was going to dunk, but Tez got up and blocked it. He got some kind of energy boost from somewhere."
Auburn went to the press defensively, but was unsuccessful with it as Tennessee got a pair of threes from Smith and one from Watson. The Vols' lead grew back to 23 at 88-65 with 5:45 minutes remaining.
From there both teams shot the lights out from the field. Robertson hit a three, LeMelle hit a three and Tolbert hit two threes. Even though the Vols had a huge lead Lofton stayed in the game and hit five threes in the final five minutes after being held in check for most of the night.
"We were scoring but they kept hitting shots," LeMelle said. "They're a good shooting team and they kept hitting three after three. I remember off the top of my head them shooting six threes in the corner when we were trying to press them. They were just throwing it long and the guy in the corner hit about six threes in a row. Some of them were contested. That's an emotion breaker right there--daggers."
Tennessee hit 35-62 shots from the field and an even more impressive 16-29 from three-point land. They also made 19-24 foul shots. The Tigers were equally impressive shooting the rock, making 32-57 field goals, 12-19 threes and 13-14 free throws.
Brett Howell dribbles as his brother Jordan of Tennessee tries to defend the Auburn guard.
Tolbert had 13 points, five rebounds and five assists and Rasheem Barrett was also in double figures in points with 11.
Tennessee out-rebounded Auburn in the first half 19-11, but the Tigers won that battle in the second half 19-6.
The loss dropped Auburn to 10-12 overall and 2-9 in the SEC. The Volunteers will continue to hold the lead in the SEC with their 10-1 record in league play and impressive 19-3 record overall.