Bruce Pearl walked into Thompson-Boling arena on Tuesday night and won for the first time as an opposing coach, as Auburn (13-1, 1-0 SEC) upset No. 23 Tennessee 94-84. The win is Auburn’s first win in Knoxville since 1998.
As the former coach of the Vols, Pearl was here before the black seats, suites and a practice gym, but his first win in Knoxville didn’t mean any more than a win over any other opponent.
“Being here is way more emotional,” Pearl said following the game. “I care so much about this place and this building.”
“Beating them doesn’t mean any more. In fact, in some ways it means a touch less because I care so much about coach (Rick Barnes). He’s one of the guys I looked up to. He’s as good as there is in this business, so I’m not celebrating it.”
Tennessee (9-4, 0-2 SEC) jumped out to an early double-digit lead, but fell apart midway through the first half and could never fully recover.
Behind two 3’s from Jordan Bone and a three from Lamonte Turner, Tennessee led Auburn 20-9 early on. The lead would grow to 28-14 with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first half. That’s when Auburn started to heat up.
The Tigers led 42-36 at halftime, closing out the first half on a 28-8 run.
Auburn completely outworked the Vols in the opening 20 minutes, out-rebounding Tennessee 27 to 19, hauling in 13 offensive rebounds that led to 15 second chance points. Despite the presence of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, the Tigers would score 22 points in the paint.
Auburn out-rebounded Tennessee 46-38 on the night, 22 of them coming on the offensive glass.
Head coach Rick Barnes was none too pleased with his team’s effort following the game. The Vols were a team tonight that Barnes has never seen before, being out-worked in every phase of the game.
“That’s always the hardest thing to accept,” Barnes said following the loss. “We’ve got guys’ egos that they want to show they can do other things as opposed to doing their job. That’s the problem with where we are right now. Guys not doing what they need to do and no making winning plays.”
Barnes sees the team’s casual approach every day. “That’s why I have to be on them every day because they don’t get it,” Barnes said. “At some point in time you’d like to see them say this is important right now because if we don’t keep getting better, we’re going to get the kind of results we got tonight.”
Tennessee found success in the first four minutes of the second half, as Grant Williams scored seven points to give the Vols a 47-46 lead.
Williams picked up his third foul with 13:26 remaining and Admiral Schofield picked up his third foul with 12:16 remaining. Once Williams and Schofield took a seat on the bench, it was all Auburn.
Pearl’s squad closed out the first half with a dominant run and would go on a 28-8 run midway through the second half to build as big of a lead of 12 points.
Turner tried to will the Vols back into it, scoring 20 of his career-high 25 points in the second half. The redshirt-sophomore guard was a perfect 13-for-13 at the free throw line, but Auburn’s five made 3-pointers in the final six minutes were too much to overcome.
Turner isn’t concerned about breaking out of his five-game slump though. He’s focused on getting back in the film room and gym to correct his and the teams’ mistakes.
“We have to get back to playing hard and getting after our opponents on the defensive end,” Turner said. “We have to go back and look at ourselves in the mirror through film and coaching. We have to be honest with ourselves, and if we learn from it, I think we will bounce back.”
Williams added a season-high 22 points, marking his fourth 20-point game of the year. Sophomore point guard Jordan Bone scored 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, while Schofield finished with 13 points.
Tennessee now looks to avoid an 0-3 start in the SEC when No. 17 Kentucky comes to town on Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. ET.
Edited by Seth Raborn
Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics