Vols topple Auburn in front of capacity crowd

Published 12:02 am Sunday, February 27, 2022

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KNOXVILLE – Using an explosive second-half offensive performance and smothering rebounding, the No. 17 Tennessee Volunteers defeated third-ranked Auburn, 67-62, for the Vols’ second top-five home victory in two weeks.
Tennessee (21-7, 12-4 SEC) set a Barnes-era high in rebounding, pulling down 54 boards. The Vols fired 4-of-7 (.571) from beyond the 3-point line and knocked down 16-of-21 (.762) from the free-throw line in the second half, a dominant offensive attack netting 42 points.
The capacity crowd of 21,678 continued to energize the Vols as it has all year, helping Tennessee earn its 15th win this season at Thompson-Boling Arena and 16th in a row in Knoxville.
The Vols hosted a capacity crowd for the second-straight game and had more than 20,000 fans for the third in a row. The victory marked the sixth win in the Rick Barnes era over an AP top-five opponent.
Tennessee is 4-0 under Barnes when facing top-five teams at home.
Six Vols came up with huge performances, each coming in different aspects of the game. All-SEC candidate Santiago Vescovi led Tennessee scorers with 14 points and sank all six of his free-throw attempts. Vescovi also tied his career-high with two blocks.
Fellow All-SEC hopeful Kennedy Chandler and SEC Sixth Man of the Year candidate Zakai Zeigler each tallied 13 points. Zeigler finished 8-of-9 at the line, logged three steals and pushed his total past 50 for the season, now at 52.
Josiah-Jordan James had a versatile performance for the Big Orange, sinking 10 points and shooting 2-of-4 from downtown. He pulled down nine rebounds, eight coming on the defensive side, to tie John Fulkerson for the team lead.
True freshman Brandon Huntley-Hatfield logged five clutch points for UT as he sank a 3-pointer from the wing to kick off Tennessee’s 17-2 run.  He then jammed home a put back later during the run to invigorate the raucous crowd.
He finished with eight rebounds and a pair of blocks.
Auburn (25-4, 13-3 SEC) was led offensively by projected first-round NBA Draft pick Jabari Smith, who scored 27 points on 9-of-21 (.428) shooting from the field. He cashed in at the line, draining 6-of-7.
Throughout the first half, the sides traded baskets and runs. The Big Orange hunkered down early, holding Auburn scoreless for five minutes and 43 seconds, starting with 14 minutes left in the half. The Vols went on an 8-0 run in that span, capitalizing on terrific rebounding to build the advantage.
Tennessee was out-rebounding the Tigers, 13-3, at the second media timeout. By the third media timeout, the Vols had extended that margin to 21-8.
It was after the third media break that Auburn found life.
The Tigers used a 13-2 run lasting four minutes and 15 seconds, starting with 6:21 left in the half, to take a lead that they would not relinquish until midway through the second half.
Both teams had runs in the first 20 minutes and chances to distance themselves, yet neither team took a lead larger than seven points.
Tennessee was held to 9-of-32 (.281) shooting in the first half but out-rebounded Auburn by a 28-17 margin. The stifling Volunteer defense did not allow the Tigers much offensively, holding them to 3-of-14 (.214) shooting from beyond the arc and 13-of-35 (.371) from the floor.
While Auburn got a little space early in the second period, the Vols started the 17-2 run, kicked off by Huntley-Hatfield’s 3-pointer, with 15:53 left.
Fulkerson and Chandler contributed six during that run, while Zeigler sank a trey with 12:55 left in the game to tie it, and the Vols took a lead they would not give up for the rest of the evening.
UT was calm, cool and collected at the line, making 12 of its final 14 points from the charity stripe in the final five minutes to close out the win.
Tennessee travels to Athens, Georgia, to take on the Bulldogs at 6:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 1. The game will be televised on SEC Network.
The Vols are back on Rocky Top Saturday, Mach 5, when they host the Arkansas Razorbacks in the season finale at noon ET on ESPN. Tickets to that game are sold out.
Tennessee has defeated six AP top-five foes during the Rick Barnes era, including two this season. The Vols defeated No. 4 Kentucky on Feb. 15, 76-63. Tennessee also defeated then-No. 6 and current No. 2 Arizona on Dec. 22, 77-73.
Playing an SEC-high 20 minutes, freshman forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield scored five points on a 3-pointer and a put back dunk, grabbed a career-high-tying eight rebounds and blocked two shots.

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