Tennessee returned home Saturday to take on the Auburn Tigers and ex-Vols coach Bruce Pearl. The Vols were looking to avoid a 3-game skid and they were able to slide past the Tigers 71-63.
Armani Moore recorded another double-double, and four Vols scored in double figures, giving fans hope that they haven’t seen the best this team can offer yet.
Kevin Punter seemed to take over this game right from the start. He hasn’t shot a good percentage from the floor in most games this season, but that didn’t seem to bother him as he came out firing away, scoring Tennessee’s first 5 points. Tennessee then suffered another one of their two common cold streaks from the floor, going almost 7 minutes without a made field goal, shooting 25 percent from the floor at that point.
This is when Auburn began their run. Tahj Shamsid-Deen was Auburn’s star in the first half, knocking down shots from all over the floor and also setting up his teammates with good looks. Tennessee was able to rebound from their cold stretch and rallied for a 33-29 lead at the break.
Kevin Punter was the lead scorer for the Vols in the first half. He shot a perfect 4-4 from the field and 2-2 from the three point line for 10 first half points. Armani Moore grabbed 7 rebounds and also scored 7 points on 2-4 shooting and went 3-4 from the free throw line. Josh Richardson went 3-6 from the field and 3-4 from the charity stripe to score 9 points.
The Vols gave the ball away seven times during the first 20 minutes of action but did shoot a collective 10-13 from the line, giving them the slight edge at halftime.
Auburn’s top performer was Shamsid-Deen, who went 4-6 from the field and 2-3 from the three point line for 10 points in the first half. Auburn shot great in the first half; they went 50 percent from the field and although they are not a three-point shooting team, the Tigers shot 55 percent from deep. Auburn led the game for 13 of the first 20 minutes and even got the lead up to 8 at one point, but the Vols’ late rally erased the success Auburn had early on.
The Tigers wasted no time attacking the small deficit they faced at the break. It just took Auburn just a few minutes to not only erase the deficit but also to establish a three point lead. The Vols hit another rough patch in the middle of the second half, where they struggled to score.
Tennessee continued to grind though, and like so many games this year, they were able to overcome the deficit and cut the lead to one point. From there, they went on a 7-0 run to get the lead to 6. Tennessee was able to keep up the pressure and defend the lead until the final horn sounded.
The top performer for Tennessee was Armani Moore, who had another double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds. He was a force on both sides of the floor against Auburn and even made some ESPN Top 10 plays along the way. Kevin Punter scored 17 points on 5-7 shooting, and Josh Richardson scored 15 points, going 4-11 from the field. Derek Reese scored 11 points on 2-8 shooting but was only able to record five rebounds.
KT Harrell scored 16 points on 5-10 shooting. He also went 4-8 from the three point line and grabbed six rebounds. Shamsid-Deen finished with 14 points on 6-12 shooting, and Antoine Mason also scored 14 points on 3-7 shooting. Cinmeon Bowers dominated the paint, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
The game also showcased Josh Richardson’s play at the point. Some argue that Kevin Punter should be taking the ball up more in order to set up looks for Richardson, but today, those roles reversed. Richardson set up looks for Punter, and he converted. Richardson recorded six assists, and it seemed like most of those were to Punter, who had one of his best shooting performances this year.
Tennessee faces Mississippi State at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Edited by Maggie Jones