We all knew what was at stake today.
When you visit your former team, it's like planning to see your ex in a public place—on the surface, you've got pride, and you've got to prove that you're better off, that your life is going great without them. But deep down in your heart of hearts, you reminisce about the good times you used to have together—maybe even in the hopes that your former flame will as well and give it all a second chance—and this can often be distracting enough to negate your most prideful peacocking.
Bruce Pearl showed nothing but class in his return to Knoxville, but a fiercely competitive environment in Knoxville was enough to knock the Tigers off their gameplan in their 7th consecutive road loss. The Vols (13-7, 5-3 SEC) held back Auburn (10-11, 2-6) 71-63.
To say that Thompson-Boling Arena was hostile would be the understatement of the year, but it wasn't coming from the stands. This game was characterized by fouls, ejections, and general contempt for the opponent as two shades of orange battled for a hard-fought W in the SEC. In the end, it was the Vols who were able to take control of momentum, solid free-throw shooting, and rebounding to prevent Auburn from its first road win of the season.
Auburn certainly impressed in the first half, causing Tenneessee to commit turnovers and knocking down 3-pointers. Overall, as fans have witnessed all season, it came down to the second half, and it was there that Auburn was unable to finish the drill. 4 of Auburn's starters ended the game with double-digit points, but it wasn't enough to get Auburn a road win in Knoxville.
With 1:14 left in the game, Auburn was down 67-63. Malcolm Canada drove up the court with the ball and a chance for the Tigers to get within a point of a second-half comeback. The possession was squandered, however, with a bad shot and worse rebounding as the Vols went back down the court and forced Antoine Mason to foul. It was all downhill from there.
It's a frustrating loss for the Tigers, and as fans become restless, it'll be a long road to March as Auburn looks ahead to its remaining SEC schedule—notably its home games: Ole Miss, Arkansas, Alabama, LSU, and Georgia.
Here are the three things we learned from today's loss:
1. This Auburn team just cannot put together a complete game, and it's costing us precious wins.
If the first half was about shot-clock malfunctions, the second was about bad fouls and lack of composure.
This game was never really beyond reach until late in the second half. Bad officiating throughout the game certainly caused UT to gain some momentum throughout, but it's Auburn's lack of composure and smart basketball late in games that's costing them wins against teams like Tennessee (and Mississippi State, Alabama, etc.). It starts with pay-day possessions, and we can't seem to capitalize on them.
KT Harrell led in scoring today, which is what fans needed to see. Tahj Shamsid-Deen had a solid scoring day as well with 14 points. But without consistent rebounding on both ends of the court, this Tigers team could not get it done when they needed to most. You're going to get bad calls, and perhaps there will be games down the road that have similarly terrible officiating, but it always comes down to fundamentals. Keeping your composure for 40 minutes and not losing the ball on key possessions belongs in that category.
2. Trayvon Reed is still an Auburn Tiger, no matter how you feel about the call.
Not to Barn to hard here, but the flagrant-2 on Reed in the second half was, at the very least, questionabe. A foul? Sure. But this game was out of control to begin with. Basketball is a physical game, and if you don't believe that, I have some literature for you to look at.
Reed is still developing as a player, and Pearl knows this, but he does need to learn how to keep cool under pressure. An earlier technical foul from the 1st half was enough to put a target on his back, and the Vols players certainly kept this in mind. Our take? Even if you're not intending to foul, don't give the officials the opportunity.
No matter how you feel about the call, remember that he's still a member of the team, and despite ESPN2's classless discussion about Trayvon Reed's history with the law (shame on you, ESPN2), it's 2015, and all that matters is the next game.
3. THAT SHIRT IS REALLLL NICE, CLARK. I MEAN, REALLLL. NICE.
I want this:
Bruce T-shirts pic.twitter.com/yDtUsv45VM— Brandon Marcello (@bmarcello) January 31, 2015
Seriously, if one of you can snag me this shirt, I'll be your servant in the big orange and blue afterlife.
Well, here we go, folks. Your big ol' (burnt) orange tweets from the game. Don't stop doin' what you do.
AUBURN VS. TENNESSEE TWEETS:
How can you not love @coachbrucepearl ? UT welcomes him with open arms and I'm over here on the verge of tears over his charisma.— Abby Lemons (@abblem247) January 31, 2015
Man, Pearl high-fived the Vols fans. This man is awesome.— Bobby Barkley (@bobby_barkley) January 31, 2015
KT can't go scoreless for a half today. We'll get blown out.— James Jones (@JamesJones_55) January 31, 2015
I would like to see Auburn in an orange version of this uniform. And I normally prefer the blue to the orange.— College & Magnolia (@CollegeAndMag) January 31, 2015
Respect. pic.twitter.com/iBSUlw7F4t— Jay Jacobs (@jayjacobsauad) January 31, 2015
HOW IS TAHJ EVEN PLAYING? I LOVE YOU TINY BASKETBALL PLAYER.— College & Magnolia (@CollegeAndMag) January 31, 2015
GRANGER DANGER— Bobby Barkley (@bobby_barkley) January 31, 2015
Glad to see Tahj back. His back for hitting layups over big men is a huge weapon. #WarEagle— Chief (@AUChief) January 31, 2015
Bruce Pearl's return to UT off to a good start... It's Auburn 9, Tennessee 5 with 15:20 left in the first half— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) January 31, 2015
There's some fire out there today and we're moving the ball with purpose. I think our guys like being on ESPN.— BoddaGettaBasketball (@BoddaGettaBball) January 31, 2015
Have I mentioned how much I love the blue version of Auburn basketball jerseys? They're sharp.— Brett Mixon (@TrueBlueAU) January 31, 2015
BARN'S CHEATIN' THEY DEFLATED THE SHOT CLOCK— Bobby Barkley (@bobby_barkley) January 31, 2015
All these clock issues, it's like we're in Jordan Hare.— James Jones (@JamesJones_55) January 31, 2015
That's 5 turnovers for the Vols so far— Bobby Barkley (@bobby_barkley) January 31, 2015
If Auburn could shoot like 30% instead of 5% we'd be in good shape.— The Juice (@thejuiceisgood) January 31, 2015
He has two bum shoulders, and he still drains 3's. TSD is awesome.— James Jones (@JamesJones_55) January 31, 2015
See what happens when you make shots, Auburn?— Dunc City (@whduncan) January 31, 2015
Quite the start for Tahj. 3-for-4 from the field with two 3-pointers already.— Eric Wallace (@EWall14) January 31, 2015
I think we did just enough to calm that storm of momentum for the Vols. The equivalent of blocking the PAT on a comeback touchdown.— Bobby Barkley (@bobby_barkley) January 31, 2015
Quick 1st half observations: solid start. Reed needs to keep his composure. We don't have a true PG but TSD is probably the best option.— Phillip Crain (@PhillipCWDE) January 31, 2015
Game is tied at 35 on the great Tahj drive. He is playing ridiculous for his injuries— College & Magnolia (@CollegeAndMag) January 31, 2015
Antoine Mason is quietly having a great game. Playing smart and within himself.— The Juice (@thejuiceisgood) January 31, 2015
Antoine Mason with his second great move to the basket of the half, dished off to Bowers for easy layup. Auburn up 42-37 & Tyndall calls TO— James Crepea (@JamesCrepea) January 31, 2015
A 7-0 run has #Auburn ahead 42-37 and forces UT to call a TO with 14:27 to go in the game— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) January 31, 2015
A guy runs into your elbow when you are 7ft tall and you get a flagrant and an ejection?!— Chief (@AUChief) January 31, 2015
After the Canada possession late in the game:
We rushed. We totally rushed.— Phillip Crain (@PhillipCWDE) January 31, 2015
Final: Tennessee 71, Auburn 63. We return to the floor Thursday at LSU— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) January 31, 2015
This was actually a pretty good basketball game, all things considered. Let's hope Auburn can channel the good intensity from this game and take it to LSU when they head to Baton Rouge on Thursday. War Damn Eagle.