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Vols win rock fight over Auburn

 Brian Hartman   in Basketball

It wasn't the best day for offense in Knoxville. 

Photo courtesy of Zach Bland/Auburn athletics.

Josiah-Jordan James scored 15 points and pulled 14 rebounds as second-ranked Tennessee beat Auburn, 46-43, inside the Thompson-Boling arena in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday afternoon. 

The Vols (19-4, 8-2 Southeastern Conference) shot just 27% from the floor, however, that was better than Auburn's 23.5% in what was the lowest-scoring SEC game between Top 25 teams since 1949, and the fourth-lowest scoring output between ranked teams since the shot clock was introduced in 1985.  

"Physical game. Always is against those guys. We love playing those guys. They fight like we fight. We  believe we are the best defensive team in the country. We can win games like this if we need to. Games like this reveal your character. We responded today. We got it done," James said

The teams combined to make only five 3-pointers; Auburn was 3-of-27 (11%) ,while the Vols were 2-21 (9.5%).

However, the second made 3-pointer of the afternoon was a big one.

After Auburn (17-6, 7-3) had cut an eight-point Tennessee lead to two points, Auburn's KD Johnson fouled Santiago Vescovi on his successful 3 pointer with 2:33 left in the game. Vescovi completed the four-point play with a free throw, giving Tennessee a 44-38 lead. 

"I never saw it go in. I was on the ground. I guessed it went in because everybody was yelling," Vescovi said. 

Auburn wasn't done. 

Wendell Green Jr.''s  3 pointer with 30 seconds left cut Tennessee's lead to 44-41. The Tigers forced a backcourt turnover with 23 seconds left and then Johni Broome's tap in off a Jaylin Williams miss cut the lead to one. 

Zakai Zeigler answered with two massive free throws, giving Tennessee a 46-43 lead with 16 seconds left. 

Green's last-second 3-pointer was off the mark and the Vols escaped. 

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl wanted a foul called on Tennessee's Olivier Nkamhoua, making a case that Green was fouled on the last 3 point attempt. There was contact, but the officials didn't see enough to call a foul. 

"Most disappointing loss of the year. Very disappointed at the end of the game. (on non-foul call at final buzzer) Very disappointed.... but I have to work on end of game offense so I can get my team better shots. That's what I'm responsible for," Pearl said. 

James was the only Tennessee player in double figures. 

Vescovi and Zeigler both failed to score a point in the first half. Tennessee still led 23-19 at halftime. 

Vescovi (2-of-7 from the floor) finished with seven points, while Zeigler (0-of-10) scored his three points on free throws but handed out a team high 10 assists. Six of their combined 10 points were the Vols' final six points of the game. Nkamhoua (4-of-16) struggled but wound up with nine points.

"This is the most physical league in the country. It's hard. There are no secrets. We all know each other. We're proud of the way our guy's fought. I'm sure Auburn is too. But both coaches would rather see the ball go in the basket more. Just one of those days. Had to grind it out. We can do that," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.

Broome led Auburn in scoring with 11 points. Six of Broome's points helped Auburn take an early 10-2 lead. He only scored five the rest of the way.

Johnson scored six of his 10 points at the free throw line for Auburn. 

Auburn's Green Jr and Alan Flanigan finished with nine points each. They combined to shoot 5-of-21 from the floor, 3-of-15 from 3. Jaylin Williams shot 1-of-10 from the floor, finishing with four points. 

The Tigers took a 10-2 lead as the Vols struggled from the floor early in the game. Auburn then went over eight minutes without a FG. Green's long 3 pointer with 5:49 left  was Auburn's only field goal in the final 15:43 of the first half. 

Tobe Awaka's basket off an offensive rebound gave the Vols a 30-28 lead with 12:35 to play in the game. That started an 8-0 run by Tennessee, which gave the Vols a lead they never relinquished. Those were Awaka's only points of the game. 

Vescovi and James both made jumpers on back-to-back possessions. Nkamhoua's tip-in with 9:14 left capped the 8-0 run, giving Tennessee a 36-28 lead. It was the biggest lead of the game for the Vols. 


- Pearl's record against Tennessee since he became Auburn's coach dropped to 7-6, 2-4 in Knoxville. Pearl coached at Tennessee from 2005-2011. The Vols made the NCAA Tournament in all six seasons under Pearl. Tennessee won the SEC championship in 2008. 

- Auburn scored 94 points Wednesday night in a win over Georgia. Today, Auburn became the ninth team this season that the Vols have held to under 50 points. Included in that list from the SEC is Georgia (41) and South Carolina (42).  

- This is the second straight game that Tennessee has shot under 30% from the floor. The Vols shot 28% in a 67-54 loss at Florida Wednesday night.