Bruce Pearl Breaks the Streaks vs the Vols
photo: Julie Bennett/al.com
It didn’t look pretty at times, but then this wasn’t another over-matched opponent playing on Auburn’s home court. This was the 23rd-ranked Tennessee Volunteers, and Auburn was the visitor. The Tigers opened SEC play in Knoxville with a 94–84 win over the Vols.
Auburn entered the game 12–1 and was clearly the more talented team. In his pregame interview Coach Bruce Pearl noted that Auburn had played through adversity both on and off the floor, but the one thing it hadn’t done was get down big and play from behind. That’s exactly what the Tigers faced with ten minutes left in the first half as they were down as much as 14 points in the early going.
Auburn has been an interesting program under Pearl. It’s been a hard working blue collar team with subpar talent. It’s been a mismatched team of young talent and older experienced players. And last year’s squad was a talented team that lacked focus and mental toughness in the hard times.
The Tigers blew through a wall against Tennessee. The 14-point deficit lasted mere minutes, and Auburn went to halftime up by seven. They trailed by one point twice more in the contest, and the game was close in the waning minutes before Chuma Okeke buried the Vols with a barrage of three pointers. Auburn walked away with a double digit win, stunning the Volunteers.
This time, it wasn’t Bruce Pearl chastising the Auburn squad for being selfish and immature. It was Vol coach Rick Barnes who was heard railing against his squad as a smiling Pearl walked off the court. It was Pearl’s first win over his former team in three tries. It was the first time since 1998 that Auburn won in Knoxville, and the first time in a decade that the Tigers won a road game against a ranked team.
Auburn had five players in double digits, and the two biggest producers came off the bench. With both Desean Murray and Anfernee McLemore getting into foul trouble early, Okeke and Horace Spencer did more than just provide minutes. The two combined for 21 points, and their seven offensive rebounds really made a difference. Fighting and clawing, Spencer played with a physicality that was lacking in the two previous seasons and has matured into a game breaker. Meanwhile, when Okeke wasn’t pulling down boards, he was draining threes.
And, Auburn continued to get fabulous production elsewhere. Downtown Bryce Brown was 5–12 from long distance, finishing with 18 points, while Jared Harper tied him with 18 quiet points as he was 10–11 from the line, burying the Vols with free throws down the stretch .
Easily the biggest number of the night was the 22 offensive rebounds that the Tigers pulled down. That’s a far cry for a team that, in the past, would have been happy to see five to seven offensive boards.
The Tigers have been snubbed the last few weeks by the ranking committees, but that will likely change now as Auburn improved to 13–1.
Auburn faces another huge test this weekend as the 22nd ranked Arkansas Razorbacks come to town. The game could possibly be the first time Auburn has been ranked when playing in the Auburn Arena. How will the young Tigers respond after the huge win against Tennessee? Will they play disrespected as respect begins to form for them? We will find out Saturday at 5:00 PM on ESPNU. Make sure to follow me on Twitter as I live tweet action @Best5Zach.