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K.D. Johnson (0) during the game between The Tennessee Volunteers and the #25 Auburn Tigers at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN on Saturday, Feb 4, 2023.
Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers
K.D. Johnson (0) during the game between The Tennessee Volunteers and the #25 Auburn Tigers at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN on Saturday, Feb 4, 2023. Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers

Auburn comes up short in Knoxville

Knoxville, Tenn. – Coming off the back of an impressive win against Georgia, Auburn seemed to carry the same energy into the matchup against Tennessee. The Tigers started out strong on an 8-0 run, but the lead was short lived as No. 25 Auburn would go toe-to-toe with the No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers. In a game that seemed to be filled with everything, the Tigers were not able to collect a win, ultimately falling by a score of 46-43.

“Very proud of my team,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “I have got to do a better job of getting them looks at the end.”

Tennessee came into the game with the best defense in college basketball and that proved to be a problem for the Tigers. Whether it was a layup or three-point shot, the Vols had the Tigers number. Auburn finished the game shooting a subpar 23.6% from the field due to a very well put together Tennessee defense. 

“Tennessee is a great defensive team, arguably the best defensive team in the country and they played like it today,” Pearl said. “They did all the things you need to do to win on the defensive end. They made it really hard on us.”

A big point to the game for Auburn was the 3-pointer. In order to come out victorious the Tigers needed to make the deep shot. It was a struggle right from the beginning when Auburn went 0-for-8 from deep to start the game, but it was turned around by Wendell Green Jr.. The guard hit a shot from the logo at the 5:45 mark in the first half to give Auburn life from behind the arc. However, the trend would not continue from deep, as Auburn would finish with going 3-for-27 at the end of the game. 

Despite the shooting woes, Auburn did get the looks needed but just were not able to convert the shots that were needed.

“We got some pretty good looks,” Pearl said. “Playing against the number two team in the country you have to make open shots.”

Johni Broome came one rebound short of yet another double-double. The center came out on a tear, scoring six of the team’s first 10 points. Shortly after Broome had to battle hard with the physical play of the Tennessee front court that saw him hit the floor hard on multiple occasions. Even with the challenging matchup, Broome was able to make plays happen and move the ball for Auburn, but it came to very little. Broome would go on to finish with 11 points and nine rebounds, despite not getting enough touches on the ball.  

“Johni did great,” Pearl said. “A better coach would have gotten him the ball better than me. I should have gotten him more touches and I should have got it to him deeper.”

Much like Tennessee success in limited Auburn’s quality offensive possessions, the Tigers did the same. The guard play of Green Jr. and Zep Jasper was able to hold the duo of Zakai Zeigler and Santia Vescovi to a combined 10 points. Zeigler’s lone three points came at the free throw line, while finishing 0-for-10 from the field, which is a huge accomplishment for Auburn. Vescovi was able to only post seven points in the victory, with four of those coming from a crucial four-point play in the second half that fueled a run to gain distance on the Tigers. 

On paper, Tennessee is the best offensive rebounding team in the SEC and that was made known. The Vols finished with 15 offensive rebounds, which led to 10 second chance points. Auburn had four players finish with at least seven rebounds in the loss, a positive as a whole. Ultimately Auburn would get outrebounded 47-42 with many of those due to poor positing or lack of form.  

“There were a couple second half rebounds where we came up out of a stance and didn’t finish the possession,” Pearl said.

K.D. Johnson was able to impress with another double-digit performance. The guard has been primarily coming off the bench for the whole season and seems to finally be adapting to the new role. 

“When you play the best teams on the schedule you need his athleticism and experience,” Pearl said. “His effort and attitude have been very consistent. He is really, really trying and that is great at this time of the year because he is defiantly turning it on.”

Auburn will head to College Station to face off against Texas A&M this coming Tuesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and will be broadcasted on ESPN2.

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