The Volunteers knocked off the Tigers 94-85on Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The Vols built an 11-point halftime advantage on the strength of 62.1 percent shooting from the field in the first 20 minutes, including 58.3 percent from three-point range.
Auburn tried to reel in the Vols throughout the second half. The Tigers cut the margin to five points with 15:34 left on a basket and free throw by Korvotney Barber, but that was as close as the Tigers could get.
The Tigers now await their fate from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee with a 22-11 record that included a 10-6 regular season league mark.
"We feel we deserve a bid to the NCAA," Rasheem Barrett said, echoing the postgame speech Coach Jeff Lebo made at his postgame press conference.
Lebo defended the SEC and sarcastically said that from some of the talk at the national level he was wondering if even the league tournament champion was going to be allowed to have its automatic bid into the 65-team field.
"It's a great basketball conference," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "I do think Auburn is going to receive very strong consideration for an NCAA bid."
Pearl said that Auburn's early season injuries will be considered by the NCAA committee and added, "Since they got healthy, they have been right there as one of the top three teams in the SEC," Pearl stated.
Commenting on whether or not his team could be happy about going to the NIT instead of the NCAA, Lebo said, "I don't think we would be enthusiastic--I am not going to lie," he stated.
For the game the Vols shot 57.6 percent from the field to Auburn's 45.6 percent and held a big rebounding edge, 44-26, which Pearl said made it possible for the Vols to run their fastbreak with success.
Tennessee moved into the finals of the tournament with a 21-11 record and will face surprising Mississippi State on Sunday for the title.
Korvotney Barber led the Tigers with a career-high points total with 24. Barrett added 18 points for the Tigers.
Wayne Chism led the Vols and all scorers with 27 points and Tyler Smith scored 23 for UT. For Chism, it was a career high total.
Lebo said he was impressed with the Vols. "I thought they played awfully well--especially offensively. When they score like that, shoot the ball like that, again, I think they're a Top 10 basketball team. I've always said that.
"They really got on out of the gate shooting the basketball from the perimeter, especially Chism. Five men (centers) that can shoot the basketball...When he's on fire like that out there, it certainly presents a lot of problems because you're not used to defending that at the five position (on three-point shots)."
Auburn led early in the game and built the margin to 15-10 on a three by Tay Waller at the 15:14 mark. The Vols took the lead on a stuff off a fastbreak by Tyler Smith to go up 18-16.
From there the Volunteers steadily built their margin until getting it into double figures on a three by Chism at the 5:45 mark of the first half at 33-22. <;> UT built the lead to 14 before taking a 47-36 advantage into the locker room at intermission.
Tennessee did much of its damage from long-range in the first half hitting 7-12 threes while also out-rebounding the Tigers 20-13.
For the half the Vols hit a sizzling 62.1 percent from the field while Auburn finished the first 20 minutes shooting 44.1 percent from the field.
The Tigers also hurt themselves at the foul line, making just 1-5 in the first half compared to 4-5 for UT.
Auburn had an unusually high nine turnovers at the break, but that was four less than the Vols.
DeWayne Reed makes a steal for the Tigers.
In the second half the Tigers had multiple chances to cut the UT lead under five, but missed shots.
"I thought we had a couple of fastbreak opportunities, too, where Frankie had a couple at tWe rim where we didn't convert on," Lebo said. "We had a couple of open threes that we needed to make, but we made some big ones also.
"Defensively, they had us spread out, attacked us a little bit at the three position with Tyler Smith. They went a little bit bigger and played a lot at the three and tried to pound it inside against us. When they're making threes from the perimeter, you've got to get out there, and it opens up some things for them, but we had some chances.
"We had some shots, we had some plays. We got a couple of stops when we needed to, but we just couldn't convert them when we needed to in a couple of crucial times there to maybe cut it to three or four."
Mississippi State improved its record to 22-12 with its victory over the regular season league champion LSU Tigers, who fell to 26-7. The Bulldogs then upset Tennessee in the finals to earn the SEC's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs were led in the semi-finals by Jarvis Varnado who scored 19 points and added seven rebounds. Barry Stewart scored 17 for Mississippi State. Tasmin Mitchell led LSU in scoring with 15 and SEC Player of the Year Marcus Thornton added 14.