No. 3 Auburn had the chance to take firm control of the SEC regular season race after Kentucky lost to Arkansas earlier in the day. However, the Tigers let an 11-point lead slip away in the second half as Tennessee prevailed on their home court by a score of 67-62. Despite only scoring two points in a nine-minute stretch in the second half, Auburn was able to cut the Tennessee lead to three in the final minute. But Kennedy Chandler immediately answered for the Volunteers with a field goal with a half minute to play to put the Tigers away.
Jabari Smith turned in yet another fine performance for the Tigers leading all scorers with 28 points. Smith also added a team high eight rebounds. K.D. Johnson added 18 points for the Tigers. Walker Kessler chipped in with eight points, five rebounds, four assists, and four blocks.
The two teams traded blows early in the first half with neither team leading by more than seven points for the first 13 minutes. A pair of Johnson free throws kickstarted a 13-0 Auburn run giving the Tigers a 26-19 lead in the latter stages of the first half. The Tigers went into the locker room at intermission with a 31-25 lead thanks to a Jabari Smith three-pointer with six seconds to play in the first half.
Auburn controlled the early portions of the second period opening the half on an 8-3 run to open up a 39-28 lead, their largest lead of the game. However, the Volunteers answered right back with a 17-2 run to take the lead once again. Tennessee stretched their lead to as many as 11, 60-49, with four minutes to play before the Tigers clawed their way back into the game. The Tigers got within three on Smith’s four-point play but couldn’t quite complete the comeback.
Neither team shot the ball with much effectiveness. The Tigers shot it at a 35.4% clip, while the Volunteers shot it at a 32.8% clip. However, Tennessee has a big edge in both rebounding and free throw shooting. The Volunteers outrebounded Auburn 54 to 31 and grabbed 21 offensive boards. Additionally, Tennessee made 21 of 27 free throws while Auburn shot it 11 for 15 at the charity stripe. The Tigers did force 18 turnovers while snatching 11 steals. Wendell Green, Jr. had four of those steals along with five points; however, Green, Jr.’s points were the only points for a Tiger bench player.
Tennessee had four players in double figures – Santiago Vescovi (14), Kennedy Chandler (13), Zakai Zeigler (13), and Josiah-Jordan James (10).
Auburn is back in action on Wednesday March 2nd at 8 p.m. in Starkville, Mississippi to take on Mississippi State. The Tigers can clinch a share of the regular season title with a win.