Auburn controlled the game for 15 minutes by sinking 9 of its first 18 shots from 3-point range and grabbing nine offensive rebounds. Tennessee stepped up its defensive intensity at this point, however, and outscored the Tigers 16-0 to turn the 22-34 deficit into a 38-34 lead.
The Vols expanded a 38-37 halftime lead to 55-48, then made a 12-0 run that widened the gap to 19 points (67-48) on a Steven Pearl drive with 6:52 to play. The final margin was Tennessee's biggest of the game.
Truly, this game was a tale of two halves. Tennessee shot a sizzling 65.5 percent (19 of 29) in the second half and 60.8 percent for the game. Auburn shot just 26.3 percent (5 of 19) in the second half and 30.4 for the game. Outrebounded 21-17 in the first half, the Vols won the backboard battle 18-12 in the second. After allowing Auburn to hit 10 3-pointers in the first half, the Vols limited the Tigers to one in the second. Given all of the above, the fact UT outscored the visitors 43-18 over the final 20 minutes was not surprising.
"It was an impressive final 30 minutes," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show. "Auburn played really well to start, and they shot the ball great."
One reason the Tigers shot the ball great was that the Vols defended poorly. Most of Auburn's 10 first-half 3s came on wide-open looks.
"Our starters and some of our star players did not defend, did not have any interest in defending and did not rebound," Pearl said.
Despite having just one starter over 6-feet-6, Auburn crashed the offensive boards and recorded 11 of its first 16 points on second-chance baskets.
"I was just sick the way we wimped out on the boards early," Pearl said. "Those five guys that started the game - Bobby (Maze) and Scotty (Hopson) and J.P. (Prince) and Renaldo (Woolridge) and Wayne (Chism) - got their butts whupped on the boards. I was very disappointed in that start."
Freshman Kenny Hall provided a big lift off the bench, showing great energy as he battled for defensive position and rebounds. His hustle seemed to spark the other Vols.
"Your best players have got to step up and show leadership," Pearl said. "We shouldn't have courage coming off the bench. It should be starting from Jump Street."
The Big Orange improves to 13-2 overall and 1-0 in SEC play. Jeff Lebo's Tigers slip to 9-8 and 0-1.
Maze had another strong game, producing 14 points and 9 rebounds with just 1 turnover in 30 minutes at the point. Prince also scored 14 for the Vols. Chism added 12 points and 12 rebounds. Hall hit 5 of 7 shots en route to 10 points.
DeWayne Reed scored 19 points and Frankie Sullivan 14 to pace Auburn.
Tennessee will have roughly 40 hours before facing Ole Miss, which visits Thompson-Boling for a 1:30 tipoff on Saturday.