Vols crush Auburn, 82-54

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Four months into the season Tennessee's basketball team has learned a valuable lesson: If you crush an opponent's spirit in the opening minutes the rest of the game is easy.

Four days after racing to a 24-6 lead en route to a 76-38 beat-down of Vanderbilt, Tennessee raced to a 29-6 lead at Auburn en route to an 82-54 Wednesday night blowout of the Tigers.

Junior post Jarnell Stokes muscled in 8 of 10 shots on his way to a 20-point, 7-rebound, 7-assist performance as the Vols improved to 19-11 overall and 10-7 in SEC play.

"Jarnell's playing exceptional right now," head coach Cuonzo Martin said on the post-game show. "He's passing the ball. He's demanding the double-team. He's making tremendous decisions. Jordan (McRae) does what he does, and everybody else kind of falls in line."

Antonio Barton nailed 4 of 8 shots from 3-point range and added 14 points. McRae and Jeronne Maymon chipped in 13 points each, Josh Richardson 10 as all five starters reached double figures. Maymon was 5 of 6 from the field with 8 rebounds. Derek Reese came off the bench to spear 7 rebounds as Tennessee won the backboard battle 43-25.

The Vols completely shut down SEC scoring leader Chris Denson, limiting him to a season-low 3 points on 1-for-10 shooting. He came in averaging 19.9 points per game. Backcourt mate K.T. Harrell, averaging 18.5 points, scored 11 of his 15 in the second half when the outcome already was determined.

"I thought Jordan and Josh from the start of the game accepted the challenge of really trying to shut those guards down," Martin said.

With Auburn's dynamic duo limited, Tahj Shamsid-Deen wound up scoring 17 points to lead the Tigers, who slip to 13-15 overall and 5-12 in league play.

Denson, who made an assortment of layups in burning Tennessee for 24 points in the earlier meeting at Knoxville, could not get to the basket this time. As a result, the Vols outscored Auburn 40-18 on points in the paint.

"I thought our guys did a great job of playing as a team," Martin said. "They really defended well. The last two games, this is the way I envisioned our guys to defend all season long. The last couple of games we've taken tremendous pride in playing defense and rebounding."

Tennessee played well on offense, too. The Big Orange shot 48.3 percent (28 of 58) from the field, 33.3 percent (8 of 24) from 3 and 90 percent (18 of 20) from the foul line. The Vols also recorded 17 assists and just 7 turnovers.

Auburn shot a mere 37.7 percent (20 of 53) from the field, 37.5 percent (6 of 16) from 3 and 57.1 percent (8 of 14) from the foul line.

With the Tigers crowding the lane to try and contain Stokes and Maymon, Tennessee came out bombing from 3-point range. McRae and Barton drained two treys each as the Vols grabbed a 20-4 lead 10 minutes into the game. Darius Thompson scored on a steal and drive, then Stokes muscled home a layup as the gap widened to 24-4.

After an Auburn free throw, McRae bagged his third 3-pointer of the half. After another Tiger foul shot, he sank a couple of free throws as the bulge swelled to 29-6. With 6:55 remaining to the break McRae had single-handedly outscored Auburn 11 points to 6. The Tigers were 2 of 18 from the field at this point.

"The guys set a tone early," Martin said. "We wanted to come out and play hard, allow our defense to dictate how we play offensively."

A Stokes putback pushed the lead to 24 points (36-12) and the Vols went to halftime leading by the same margin (44-20). A 3-point basket by Armani Moore in the final minute produced Tennessee's biggest lead, 28 points, and concluded the game's scoring.

Tennessee concludes the regular season Saturday at 4, hosting another NCAA bubble team, Missouri.

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