Auburn was without Sharife Cooper, coming off of a losing streak, and facing a top-25 Tennessee team that had played like one of the nation’s best teams at different times this season. The Volunteers outshot Auburn from deep, from the line, and from the floor overall in terms of percentage, and yet Bruce Pearl found a way to get his sixth straight victory over his previous coaching stop as the Tigers won 77-72 today at Auburn Arena.
Since the 2017-18 season, Auburn has controlled the rivalry with the Volunteers. On January 2nd, 2018, the Tigers beat Tennessee in Knoxville, and followed that up with the regular-season ending win in 2019 over the 5th-ranked Vols. They destroyed Rick Barnes’ team in the SEC Championship Game, and then scored two regular season wins last year, including the final game of the regular season that ended the year unbeknownst to the Tigers before the COVID shutdown.
Now, they got number six. It’s the first time since a span from 1999-2003 that Auburn has won six straight games over a conference opponent, and today it came as the shorthanded Tigers took down a ranked opponent. After getting shellacked by Florida on Tuesday night without star freshman Sharife Cooper, prospects were bleak for today in the eyes of many. However, Allen Flanigan stepped up and filled the void while pouring in a game-high 23 points.
Tennessee outshot Auburn from the floor 41% to 40%, and from three-point range 39% to 35%, but Auburn successfully got to the foul line time and again, shooting 37 free throws to Tennessee’s 10. That was the difference in the game, as the starters pulled an all-nighter and went the distance. Auburn’s bench only contributed 2 points in the game, and a thin team got the work it needed from the first five.
After falling behind 5-0 early, Auburn caught up and tied the game at 8-8 on a J.T. Thor second chance three, and then kept pace with the Vols in a back-and-forth first half. A Jaylin Williams three put the Tigers on top 16-14 with just over 10 minutes left in the half, and a three from Flanigan extended the lead to its largest margin of the half at 21-16 with 6:57 to go. Tennessee would fight back and take a 28-27 lead on a Santiago Vescovi three with barely more than 3 minutes to play in the half, but Auburn quickly answered with a Flanigan putback and never trailed again. At the break, the Tigers led 34-30 despite shooting just 32%.
Once the second half began, Auburn kept Tennessee at arm’s length thanks to more work at the foul line, but that wouldn’t prevent the Vols from battling back and tying the game at 43 at the 12:42 mark. After that, Auburn started to pour it on and stretch the lead. A three by Devan Cambridge and free throws from Jaylin Williams gave Auburn it’s largest lead thus far at 52-45, and they’d eventually lean on the Vols to push the margin to double digits with more foul shots from Jamal Johnson. Auburn held a comfortable 72-60 advantage with 1:55 to play, but Tennessee wouldn’t give up. A frantic run by the Vols cut the Auburn lead down to one possession at 75-72 after a Keon Johnson runner, but final foul shots clinched the win for the Tigers.
Flanigan’s 23 tied for the game lead with Keon Johnson, and all five Auburn starters finished with double figures, including Devan Cambridge’s 15 points and Jamal Johnson’s 14. Up next for Auburn they’ll head back out on the road for the return trip to Tuscaloosa, before finishing the season next Saturday with the rescheduled game against Mississippi State.