Senior guard Bryce Brown had a game-high of 19 points, nailing five three-pointers, as the Auburn Tigers (26-9) put a nail in the Volunteers’ coffin on Sunday afternoon, as they captured their second SEC Tournament championship in program history. The final score was 84-64.
“We have a lot more to prove,” said Brown, following the game.
Auburn barely escaped Florida on Saturday. The Volunteers ran out of breath beating the Wildcats. Most people expected the arena to be half empty because Kentucky was gone. However, instead of a sea of blue, like usual, it was a sea of orange from top to bottom. Notwithstanding, the Tigers annihilated Tennessee on championship Sunday.
The eighth-ranked Volunteers started the game with tremendous energy. Lamonte’ Turner led the troops out the gate, coming out ready to play, knocking down a couple of trifectas and getting to the stripe. Although, it would not continue that way. Tennessee led 17-13 with a little over 11 minutes left in the first half. After that, they would make only two buckets the rest of the half. With a little over 11 minutes remaining in the game, the score was 57-38. At that point, everyone associated with the Tennessee Volunteers (29-5) realized that this game was now, essentially over.
“We weren’t very good,” said coach Rick Barnes following the contest.
The Tigers were hitting on all cylinders. They were red hot, and very explosive, with Brown and Chuma Okeke leading the charge. While the Auburn offense was sizzling hot, the Tigers’ defense turned the Vols over and over and over. Known for their three-point shooting, they forced 17 turnovers, coming up with 14 steals, with a 21-11 scoring edge off of those turnovers. The Tigers scored 16 straight points in a run that led to a 32-23 halftime lead.
Bruce Pearl has thus far, been a thorn in the side of his old program, beating Tennessee three straight times. Auburn ruined Tennessee’s hopes of winning back-to-back SEC regular-season titles for the first time with a win to wrap up the season. “I get no pleasure in beating Tennessee for this SEC championship. I spent so many wonderful years as a Tennessee Vol,” Pearl was quoted as saying.
Tennessee cost itself any chance it had at obtaining a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. They’ll have to win their first-round game to reach 30 victories.
“It’s time to play for the big one,” said Tennessee senior Admiral Schofield.
Turner led Tennessee with 24 points. Grant Williams was held to only 13 points. Jordan Bone, the hero from Saturday, had 11, and Jordan Bowden added his 10 points.
Okeke finished the game with 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Tigers. Danjel Purifoy added a 10 piece. Jared Harper, went one for 11 from the field, and six of six from the stripe, recording nine total points. It’s safe to say that his teammates picked up the slack.
This was a crazy weekend of hoops downtown at the Bridgestone Arena. Tennessee had a hard-fought, emotional win over Kentucky in the semifinals, and struggled to bounce back. Maybe they expected things to just fall into place. Maybe they were just drained. Nevertheless, the Vols haven’t won an SEC tournament title since 1979. They will, however, go to their second straight NCAA Tournament.
Auburn hadn’t played for the title since 2000, and the fifth-seeded Tigers won their fourth game in as many days. The Tigers have now, won eight straight, and 10 of their last 11 heading into the NCAA Tournament.