Tennessee (13-9, 5-4 SEC) led wire to wire on Tuesday night, defeating former head coach Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers (14-8, 3-6 SEC) 87-77.
Led by sophomore forward Admiral Schofield’s 18 points, Tennessee rolled to their fourth consecutive victory. Grant Williams finished with 17 points and five rebounds, while Jordan Bowden had 15 points and six rebounds. Senior guard Robert Hubbs contributed 11 points, nine rebounds, and five assists.
When asked if this is the consistency he’s been looking for, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said, “Yeah, it is, but like I told them, we’ve got to want more,” adding, “it’s a great win for us obviously, but we can get better, and we’ve got to get better.”
Williams and Schofield led the Vols to a 46-30 halftime lead, scoring 15 and 10 points before the break, respectively. Tennessee came out swinging early, as they out-rebounded the Tigers 24-14 in the first twenty minutes of play. The Vols began to pull away on a 15-0 run midway through the first half, pushing their lead to 31-14.
Battling back from 17 down, Auburn’s Jared Harper dropped in 18 points in the first half on 5-of-7 shooting from three, keeping the game much closer than what it seemed. Auburn finished the first half shooting 28 percent from the field.
The second half wasn’t as kind to Harper, as Tennessee held the Auburn guard to just three points over the final twenty minutes of play. In fact, he didn’t attempt a single shot over the last 16 minutes and 47 seconds of regulation.
Unfortunately for the Vols, things didn’t go as smoothly for them in the second half, either. Sloppiness on both sides of the floor led to multiple turnovers and defensive miscues. Though they led by as much as 22 at one point in the second half, Tennessee allowed the Tigers to climb all the way back and cut it to single digits within the final minutes. Auburn outscored the Vols 47-41 in the second half.
“Obviously we have to finish the game better than we did,” Barnes added postgame, addressing the second half frustrations.
After shooting 51.4 percent in the first half, Tennessee shot just 35.7 percent in the second half. Williams got into early foul trouble to start the half, leading to Tennessee’s struggles. He played just six minutes after halftime, disrupting the flow of both the Vols’ offense and defense.
Tennessee has now won three consecutive games against Auburn, while Pearl falls to 1-4 when coaching against his former school.
Up next for the Vols is a trip to Starkville on Saturday afternoon to face Mississippi State (13-8, 4-5 SEC). Tipoff is set for 3:30 ET on the SEC Network.
Edited by Quinn Pilkey
Featured image by Crag Bisacre, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics