Tennessee was a win away from their first SEC Tournament championship in 40 years. But just like the last few times they’ve made it to the SEC Tournament Finals, the Vols couldn’t find a way to get a victory.
No. 3 seed Tennessee (29-5, 15-3 SEC) fell to No. 5 seed Auburn (26-9, 11-7 SEC) by a score of 84-64 in the finals of the SEC Tournament. The Tigers earned their first conference tournament title since 1985, and they beat the Vols for the second time in eight days. The Vols lost to the Tigers 84-80 down in Auburn, Alabama last Saturday in the regular season finale.
The Tigers have now won three-straight games against Tennessee, and Bruce Pearl is now 4-4 against his old school.
The game started well for the Vols, as they jumped out to a 10-5 lead then had a 17-13 lead and had Auburn’s best player, Jared Harper, in foul trouble.
Then the wheels just completed fell off the cart.
Tennessee didn’t hit a field goal for over six minutes of game time, and they either turned it over or had an offensive foul called on them on about six or seven-straight possessions. During that stretch, Auburn went on an 18-1 run with Tennessee’s only points coming on a made Admiral Schofield free throw.
The Vols held an 18-15 lead when Schofield made that free throw. After Auburn’s run, the Vols trailed 31-18 before they made their next field goal.
Jordan Bowden ended up hitting a layup as the buzzer sounded before halftime, and that cut Auburn’s lead to single digits. But the Tigers still held the lead at the half, 32-23.
The second half saw Lamonte Turner hit a tough shot in the lane to cut the lead to just seven, but that’s where the good news really stopped for the Vols.
Auburn came out on fire from three to start the final half of play, nailing three of their first four shots from distance. The Tigers ended up leading by as much as 22 in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
From there, the blowout was clinched.
Bryce Brown and Chuma Okeke combined for 37 points for Auburn, and Okeke had a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Brown was 5-of-10 from three, and Okeke was 5-of-9 from distance.
The Tigers simply out-hustled and out-gunned the Vols in the second half, and Tennessee could never recover from the avalanche of points and their own turnovers.
Here are our five biggest observations from the Vols’ ugly loss to Auburn in the SEC Tournament Finals.
The last time these two teams played, Auburn easily won the turnover battle. Tennessee turned it over 13 times compared to just five by the Tigers.
On Sunday, it was more of the same.
Tennessee committed a whopping 12 turnovers in the first half of play, and they ended up giving the ball away another a total of 17 times in the game. Auburn, meanwhile, turned it over just three times in the first half and only seven times for the entire game.
Auburn totaled 14 steals in the game. That’s the most the Vols have allowed the ball to be stolen against them all season. The previous high was 13 against Eastern Kentucky of all teams.
In two games against Tennessee this season, Auburn has stolen the ball a total of 25 times.
Three After Three
Auburn was averaging nearly 33 three-point attempts a game over their last four games heading into Sunday’s match-up. They hit that total with about eight minutes left to play in the game against the Vols in the SEC Tournament Finals.
The Tigers attempted 40 threes against the Vols, and they drained a large portion of them. Auburn hit 15 of those shots from distance, and those three-pointers accounted for 53.6 percent of their total points. Almost two-thirds of their overall shot attempts (62.5 percent) came from three.
Tennessee didn’t attempt nearly as many three-pointers, but they were fairly effective when they did. The Vols made eight of their 15 threes, including five of their nine shots from deep in the second half.
Hitting threes wasn’t Tennessee’s problem on Sunday. It was everything else.
One Man Show
There was only one player on Tennessee’s team that was capable of making shots on Sunday. Or so it seemed.
Lamonte Turner broke out of his funk against the Tigers and scored 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting. He made four of his six three-pointers, marking the first time since the Vols took on Vanderbilt on February 19th that he made multiple threes in a game. He was also perfect from the free throw line, hitting all six of his attempts there.
Jordan Bone was decent from the field, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting. But he had just two assists and turned it over three times. Grant Williams was limited in a big way despite Auburn not having the strongest post presence. He only totaled 13 points and 8 rebounds. Admiral Schofield was bottled up all game and finished with as many fouls (4) as he had points. Jordan Bowden had 10 points off the bench and made both of his three-pointers.
The rest of the five players who appeared in the game for Tennessee combined for two points and didn’t make a field goal on four attempts.
Auburn played their fourth game in four days on Sunday, but they looked plenty energetic for most of the game. The Vols were playing their third game in a 40-hour stretch, and it looked like it got to them.
Fatigue isn’t really an excuse for Tennessee since Auburn was also probably plenty tired. But the Vols definitely let it get to them more than the Tigers did.
Tennessee totaled 17 turnovers and were beaten soundly in the rebounding battle in the second half. The Vols out-rebounded Auburn 26 to 19 in the first half, but the Tigers grabbed a huge edge on the boards in the second half, pulling down 20 rebounds compared to a measly seven by UT. The Vols grabbed just one offensive rebound in the final half of play, while Auburn snagged nine.
All that goes back to effort, and the Vols were clearly not giving a lot of that on Sunday.
40 Years and Counting
For the second-straight year, Tennessee had a chance to end their SEC Tournament title drought. And for the second-straight year, they failed to do so.
The Vols have now gone four decades without winning the SEC Tournament. The last time Tennessee did so was all the way back in 1979, the first year the tournament was brought back after a 26-year hiatus from 1952-78. Since then, the Vols have only made it to the finals of the tournament four other times, and they’ve lost all four times.
This year marked the first time since 1936 and 1937 that Tennessee had made it to the finals in back-to-back years. But Tennessee couldn’t capitalize on either opportunity, and now their fruitless streak will continue.