Vols Belt Auburn, 105-89

When it's played effectively, defense is an art, but it was a lost art Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Consider:

Auburn shot 56.1 percent from the field. Tennessee (56.5) shot even better.

Tennessee shot 55.2 percent from 3-point range. Auburn (63.2) shot even better.

Auburn drained 12 shots from 3-point range. Tennessee made a school-record 16.

Auburn scored 89 points. Tennessee scored 105.

In the second half defense wasn't even a lost art; it was a FORGOTTEN art. Tennessee shot 64.5 percent from the field and 64.7 from beyond the arc but was out-shot by Auburn in both areas. The Tigers hit 66.7 percent from the field (24 of 36) and 80 percent from the arc (8 of 10).

Moreover, Auburn outscored Tennessee 64-63 in the second half. Last year's FINAL SCORE was Auburn 62, Tennessee 59. In other words, each team scored more second-half points Wednesday night than it scored in both halves combined last season.

It was a fun game to watch but, according to the Vols, not a fun game to play.

"It's not fun at all," said Chris Lofton, who scored 22 second-half points and finished with 25. If we're hitting and they're missing, that's fun. But when both teams are hitting, that's not real fun because we know Coach (Bruce Pearl) is going to let us know about our defense."

Lofton said Pearl "didn't get on us as bad as I thought he would" immediately after the game, then added: "But we've got practice tomorrow, so he'll probably let it all out there."

Forward Andre Patterson wasn't happy with the outcome, either.

"I was kind of mad, too," he said. "We've got to take pride in our defense. We can't win championships without rebounding and defense."

The Vols (19-3 overall, 10-1 SEC) did neither in the second half vs. Auburn. They even allowed the smaller Tigers (10-12, 2-9) to dominate the backboards 19-6 in the second half.

So how did Tennessee win the game? The same way it always wins, by using its full-court press to ignite a few explosive spurts that proved decisive.

The Vols opened the game with an 8-0 run. Auburn closed to 10-5, then Tennessee made a 10-0 run, building a 20-5 lead. The key: Seven Tiger turnovers in the game's first 8 1/2 minutes.

Auburn closed to 35-25 but Tennessee scored seven unanswered points to take a 42-25 lead to intermission.

Another 7-0 spurt boosted the lead to 23 points (67-44) eight minutes into the second half. Moments later, Pearl called off the press and Tennessee simply fell asleep. Auburn made a 9-0 run to pull within 14 (67-53) and the teams essentially swapped baskets the rest of the way.

Pearl minced no words after the game, noting that he was "thrilled with our play in the first half" but "very disappointed with our play in the second half."

Although he praised Auburn for fighting back from a 23-point deficit, Pearl clearly was disgusted with his team's play during the game's final 10 minutes.

"We took the press off with about 10 minutes to go in the second half," the coach said, "and just put our half-court defense out there for display. It wasn't very good."

Actually, it was awful. Fortunately for the Vols, their offense was never better.

Lofton made just 1 of 3 field-goal tries in the first half but found room to operate when Auburn went to a full-court press in the second half. He hit 7 of 9 field goals, including 6 of 8 from beyond the arc, in the final 20 minutes. He has made 23 of 33 shots from 3-point range over the past three games.

Super sub JaJuan Smith was almost as hot, draining 6 of 10 from the field, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range, en route to a career-high 19 points. C.J. Watson hit 4 of 7 from the floor, including 2 of 4 from beyond the arc, in an 18-point, 8-assist performance.

Because Georgia gave Tennessee trouble with a 1-3-1 zone last Saturday, Pearl knew Auburn would play a lot of zone Wednesday night. That put pressure on Lofton, Watson and Smith to hit from outside. The three guards combined to sink 18 of 29 shots, including 14 of 23 from beyond the arc.

"Knowing Auburn was going to play a lot of zone, we knew we were going to get a lot of open looks on the perimeter," Pearl said. "We needed more than just Chris to make those shots. The fact Dane (Bradshaw) had a couple, C.J. had a couple and JaJuan had five, to go along with Chris' seven, was really important. It was really important that we get some perimeter offense from some other people."

The Vols got some interior offense, as well. Patterson scored 15 points, Major Wingate 12 and Stanley Asumnu 10.

Ronny LeMelle scored 19 points and Quantez Robertson 17 for Auburn


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