GAME NOTES: The Auburn Tigers will play their final home game of the season on Wednesday night when they take on the Tennessee Volunteers in SEC action at Auburn Arena.
Tennessee has won back-to-back games on the heels of losses in three of its previous four to rebound to 18-11 overall and 9-7 in the SEC, tied with Arkansas for fifth place. After dismissing last-place Mississippi State on Feb. 26 (75-68), the Vols dismantled Vanderbilt on Saturday in a record- setting performance, 76-38, although their success on the road has been suspect at just 3-7.
Auburn has enjoyed a strong season on its home floor (12-5) despite its lackluster performance overall (13-14). The Tigers are currently losers of three of their last four to drop to 5-11 in league play, most recently falling at Alabama on Saturday, 73-57.
Tennessee has beaten Auburn on six straight occasions, most recently winning in Knoxville on Jan. 15, 2013 (78-67) to improve to 73-37 in the all-time series.
The Vols' defense was the story in their latest bout, as the 38 points for Vanderbilt were the fewest by an opponent in Thompson-Boling Arena history. They outshot the Commodores from the field in the blowout, 53.1 percent to 22.4 percent, drained 10-of-21 from 3-point range and won the turnover battle, 14-8. Antonio Barton led the way with 21 points (on 5-of-7 from beyond the arc) and six assists, while Jarnell Stokes tallied a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
On the season, Tennessee has been equally strong on both ends of the court, as it shoots 44.5 percent from the field for 72.1 ppg, while allowing just 62.6 ppg on 41.5 percent shooting. It also owns an outstanding +8.2 rebounding margin and knocks down nearly 71 percent of its free-throw opportunities. Jordan McRae is the top scoring threat with 19.3 ppg, shooting 70-of-179 from 3-point range (.391) and 142-of-180 at the foul line (.789). Stokes (14.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg) and Jeronne Maymon (10.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg) make up a fearsome duo in the frontcourt, with each making field goals at greater than 51 percent efficiency, while Josh Richardson adds 9.4 ppg to the mix.
The Tigers fell behind at Alabama over the weekend by 15 at the half and never brought their deficit to single digits the rest of the way, as they shot a woeful 27.5 percent from the field, including 5-of-27 from 3-point range. KT Harrell put up a team-high 21 points, but while he made all five of his free- throw attempts, he was just 7-of-19 shooting from the floor. Asauhn Dixon- Tatum was a factor in the paint with eight points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Scoring points hasn't been much of an issue for Auburn this season, as it shoots 44 percent from the field for 72.8 ppg, but it has been held back by one of the SEC's worst scoring defense (71.7 ppg). Chris Denson is the conference's second-leading scorer with 19.9 ppg, but while he shoots an impressive 46.9 percent from the field overall, his showings from 3-point range (.253) and the free-throw line (.659) have been underwhelming. Harrell has been an excellent second option with 18.5 ppg and has been much more effective from beyond the arc (.355) and the stripe (.868) than his running mate. Dixon-Tatum makes up for his lack of scoring (5.5 ppg) by collecting 6.1 rpg and blocking nearly two blocks per outing.
Despite Auburn's success at home and Tennessee's struggles on the road, the Vols have more to play for at this point in the season with a coveted double bye in the SEC Tournament on the line for the league's top four seeds. Expect the Vols to step up and conquer the Tigers.
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