Auburn scored its first win over a top-five team in 24 seasons when it beat #5 Tennessee today 84-80 at Auburn Arena. The Tigers close out the regular season with the biggest victory of the year, finishing with a 22-9 record overall, and 11-7 in the SEC.
In a fantastic game, Tennessee led by as many as 11 points late in the first half before Auburn closed the gap and took a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish midway through the second period. Led by Chuma Okeke’s 22 points, the Tigers committed just 5 turnovers on the day, and scored 19 points off of 13 Volunteer mistakes.
From the jump, it was apparent that Tennessee deserved the high praise that they’d gotten to this point in the season. Grant Williams and Jordan Bowden combined for 22 points in the first half, and the Vols shot 55% as a team from the floor. Despite that gaudy number, Auburn hung in and trailed 41-35 at halftime thanks to Okeke’s 13-point effort. Jared Harper chipped in 6 assists even though his scoring game was off. He added just 4 first-half points.
As for the seniors on the floor — Bryce Brown, Horace Spencer, and Malik Dunbar — they combined for 11 points before halftime, but had a number of hustle plays. Overall, the atmosphere was incredible, boosted by the huge attendance and raucous student section across from the team benches.
After halftime, Auburn immediately caught fire and ran off a 7-0 spurt to take their first lead since the opening minute. A three from Bryce Brown opened the scoring, and the Tigers took a 42-41 edge less than two minutes into the half. However, Tennessee answered and put together a 7-0 run of their own to take a 48-42 lead. Trailing 50-43, Chuma Okeke took over for a moment, hitting a three and then stripping Admiral Schofield for a fastbreak dunk to pull the Tigers within one possession.
Okeke later tied the game at 59 with a layup, which was then followed by two more Auburn buckets, and the Tigers held a 63-59 margin. They’d never give up the lead, although Tennessee would tie the game once more at 69. The key possession down the stretch came as Jared Harper drove into the paint, got his layup swatted by Grant Williams, but the ball went right into the hands of Samir Doughty, who threw up a left-wing three to extend the lead to 78-72 with 1:13 to play. Auburn hit its free throws after that and clinched a huge victory at home.
While Okeke scored 22 points, Jared Harper and Bryce Brown each added 16 for a Tiger team that shot 46% from the floor and went 13-34 from three. Auburn also did a great job to get to the foul line, and went 19-24 from the stripe. In an impressive effort, Auburn won this game despite getting out-rebounded 39-27 by the Vols. Grant Williams led the way for Tennessee with 25 points on 8-12 shooting, including a 9-10 effort from the foul line.
Now that Auburn finishes the regular season at 11-7 in the SEC, South Carolina also finished at 11-7 after their win over Georgia today. That means that the Gamecocks win the 4-seed in Nashville next week for the SEC Tournament and will get the double-bye. Auburn will be the 5-seed and will play the winner of the 12-13 matchup between Georgia and Missouri. Tipoff will come from Bridgestone Arena on Thursday at approximately 2:30 pm CST.