The Tigers used a 18-0 run late in the second half to notch an 83-80 victory over the 22nd-ranked Tennessee Volunteers Wednesday night at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
The Tigers were down 66-52 with 9:44 remaining before building a late six-point lead. Tennessee cut it to three with 21.7 seconds left when Frank Tolbert wrestled down an offensive rebound and called timeout. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl then picked up an extremely ill-advised technical foul that the Tigers used to open up the lead.
"I didn't think he had to give it to me in that situation," Pearl said of Tom Lopes' call. "I thought you had to have possession of the basketball to get a timeout. (Dane) Bradshaw reacted right away, very surprised to the timeout because he had his hands on the ball, too. It was our possession (on the arrow). I'm going to stand up for my kids and I'm going to fight until the end."
Quan Prowell hit both of the free throws with and added two more with 19.7 to give Auburn a seven-point lead. Chris Lofton added a long trey at the buzzer to make the final outcome just a three-point game.
"I promised for a year and a half that as soon as we got one over a ranked team we'd go to Toomer's," said Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. "We'll be up there tonight. I don't care of it's raining, snowing or what it is. We're going to chunk some toilet paper up there tonight."
The Tigers had a difficult time with the Tennessee press in the first half, committing 12 turnovers and went into the locker room down 38-29. After a steal by and lay-up by JaJuan Smith to start the second half the Vols led by 11, but that quickly shrunk down to three as Auburn found a way to beat the press by getting it inbounds quickly and getting it to the middle of the court.
"I got on Quantez (Robertson) at the half," Lebo said. "He's got to be more aggressive for us offensively. We spent a lot of time working on their press. We worked on press offense the last two days for the majority of practice. In the second half we took the first good look we could get against their press. In the second half Quantez against their press was outstanding."
The Tigers had only six turnovers after halftime.
Auburn cut it to three points early in the second half on two occasions, but that deficit was quickly extended to 14 even with sharp-shooter Lofton on the bench for a long stretch of time. Lebo called a timeouts after a Bradshaw lay-up gave the Vols their largest lead of the game.
Tolbert, who had a season high of 24 points, got the 18-0 Auburn run started on the other end with a bucket.
"We were being patient," Tolbert noted. "When we down we were rushing our shots and turning the ball over. When we made our run to get back into the game we slowed it down, got it inside and worked inside/out."
Tennessee went almost seven minutes without a point.
"Shot selection and you don't get to the foul line in that period at all," Pearl said of the poor offensive stretch. "We got it inside and got it blocked, got stripped and didn't get it done."
With just over five minutes left and Auburn down by three, Barrett drove from the wing into the lane, hit a floater and drew the foul. The free throw gave Auburn all of the momentum and a pulled the score even. After a minute and a half of scoreless play by both teams Barber had the ball stripped under the basket by Bradshaw, who was falling out of bounds. He tried to throw it off Dollard, but the ball bounced between his legs and Prowell had the ball all alone at the top of the key.
"It was a set play," joked Tolbert.
Prowell buried the trey and gave Auburn its first lead since 19-18.
"I just wanted to make the shot for the team and be a clutch player," Prowell noted. "Thank God it went in."
UT's Chris Lofton shoots over Auburn's Quan Prowell.
Dollard extended that lead to four on the next possession from the free-throw line. Lofton then got his first points of the second half on a baseline runner to cut it to two. On the inbounds Ramar Smith grabbed Robertson's jersey and the sophomore point guard hit both of his freebies to make the score 72-68 with 2:55 to play.
Ramar Smith made another mistake on a bad pass with Prowell playing the passing lanes. Prowell raced down the court, got fouled by Smith and made both of his shots from the line to take a six-point lead. Lofton struck back with an impressive turnaround jumper of Robertson to cut it to four with 2:30 to play, but Lofton fouled Tolbert on the inbounds and he also hit both of his free throws.
"The rebounding was real big," said Dollard, who finished with seven points and nine boards. "especially coming up with the defensive rebounds at the end when we were in the bonus. That really gave us the edge in the game and that's where we beat them at."
Bradshaw, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, got an offensive rebound in a crowd, kicked to Lofton and he drained an open trey from the top of the key to pull back to within one possession. After a bad shot by Robertson the Vols got it back with a chance to tie with a three, but Lofton missed on a running jumper and Dollard pulled down the board.
He was fouled by Crews, hit the first free throw and missed the second. Prowell was there to tap it out and Tolbert was able to hit one of two from the line to make it 78-73 with 1:07 to play. Ramar Smith then found Bradshaw on a backdoor cut to again make it a three-point game, this time with one minute remaining.
Prowell missed a long jumper with the shot clock running down and Barrett got the rebound. He quickly put up a brick rather than holding onto the ball, but was bailed out when Tolbert wrestled down an offensive board and called timeout, sending Pearl into a temper tantrum.
Prowell, who was 6-6 from the line, then turned the very poor decision by Pearl into the game-ending points.
"I felt like during the game when I was shooting foul shots they were going in pretty good," Prowell noted. "I felt like I could make them at the end of the game, too. I asked coach to let me shoot them."
The Tigers lost a 105-89 game in Knoxville last season and had another high-scoring second half against the Vols by outscoring them 54-42 in the final 20 minutes of play on Wednesday.
"They play in spurts," Lebo explained. "That's what they believe in. You may be up two and in a minute half you may be down nine. That's just the way they play. They had a long stretch there. Was I worried? Yes. We were having a hard time scoring. All of a sudden we got it going offensively. We got a lot of stops in a row, which was big. In the second half we played much more man-to-man and did a much better job."
Lofton connected on 6-12 three-pointers and was Tennessee's leading scorer with 22. Ramar Smith had career-high 19 on 7-12 shooting from the floor, including an impressive dunk with 14 seconds left. JaJaun Smith chipped in 16.
Prowell had his Auburn career high with 21, 19 of which came in the second half, and also pulled down eight rebounds. He got his 21 points on 6-10 shooting from the floor and by making six crucial free throws. Barrett had 11 points and eight rebounds while Robertson's seven assists and just three turnovers were key in victory.
For the game Auburn made 20-28 free throws, including 18-23 in the second half. Tennessee made just 7-15 from the foul line.
At 12-7 overall and 2-2 in the SEC, the Tigers' next game is at Mississippi State on Saturday at 2 p.m. Tennessee dropped its third consecutive game and stands at 13-5 and 1-2 in conference play.