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Auburn can't close, falls to Tennessee 71-63: Three Things We Learned

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In Bruce Pearl's first Knoxville homecoming with a new team, the Tigers were unable to keep up with the Vols in the second half

Auburn couldn't put together the winning gameplan in the 2nd half against the Vols
Auburn couldn't put together the winning gameplan in the 2nd half against the Vols
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

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:

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:

After the Canada possession late in the game:

Yep.

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.