Now 4-3 in conference play, the one-time sole leaders of the Western Division now face again what appears to be an uphill battle to not only contend for the division title, but challenge for an NCAA Tournament berth.
"Thank goodness we got road wins," Auburn Coach Cliff Ellis said following Saturday's loss. "It would be tough without them. I don't know of anybody that is going to go unscathed at home, but I'm not even concerned about that. I just don't like the way we played."
Lethargic from the opening tip, the Tigers never led against the Volunteers despite shooting 47.1 percent from the field and turning the ball over three less times than their opponent. The problem for Auburn was on the backboards where Tennessee outrebounded them 33-24. The biggest of those came in the final minutes when Ron Slay put back a miss as the shot clock expired to give the Volunteers a three-point lead. That one play summed up the entire day for the Tigers.
"We just didn't come out with our usual fire," senior Derrick Bird said. "We didn't come out and talk well and communicate. We weren't there mentally tonight and that's what hurt us."
Marquis Daniels drops in two of his 15 points in Saturday's game. He finished with a team-high six rebounds as well.
With home games left against Ole Miss and LSU the next two dates and contests at Beard-Eaves against Mississippi State, Florida and Arkansas looming to close out the season, the Tigers have put themselves in a must-win situation now. That's not a good thing to have at this time of the year. Besides facing a Top 5 team in the Gators, none of the games are shoo-ins at this point and Auburn likely needs to finish 9-7 overall in the league to wrap up a spot in the big dance.
"It's very disappointing," senior Marquis Daniels said. "We wanted to make sure we took care of our home court. It's tough to win in the SEC and to lose one at home is very disappointing. Now we feel like we have to steal one on the road somewhere.
"We have two more home games that we need to take care of then we go to Alabama and come back home. We need to do our best to steal one and then take care of our home court. The SEC is real tough. You can't expect to go out and win on someone's home court. You have to take care of your business at home."
Auburn will try to break a three-game losing skid when they face the Ole Miss Rebels Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. The Rebels will enter Saturday's play 13-5 overall and 3-3 in conference play. Daniels said that he believes his team will bounce back after losing at home for the first time since Dec. 17 to Western Michigan
"It's not going to be hard," Daniels said when asked if it would be difficult to get back the confidence lost. "We know what we have to do. We just came out lethargic and had no energy. That's something that can be corrected. The next game we will come out with more energy and we'll play a whole lot better game."