AUBURN, Ala. — Chuma Okeke scored 22 points and Auburn defeated No. 5 Tennessee 84-80 at Auburn Arena in the final regular season game for both teams on Saturday.http://gty.im/1074413234
Okeke paced the Tigers (22-9, 11-7 SEC) in scoring after making 9 of his 14 shots from the floor, including three 3-points, while adding five rebounds and four steals.
“I know my teammates have a lot of confidence in me,” said Okeke. “The coaching staff has a lot of trust in me, too, to make plays.”
Jared Harper and Bryce Brown each scored 16 points apiece, with the former also grabbing eight rebounds for Auburn.
Harper also made four straight free throws over the final 31 seconds to seal the win.
Leading scorer Grant Williams led Tennessee with a game-high 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
Williams, a National Player of the Year candidate, also collected nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
Meanwhile, Jordan Bone had 17 points and seven assists, while Jordan Bowden added 16 points and six rebounds off the bench for the Volunteers (27-4, 15-3 SEC).
Admiral Schofield contributed 13 points in the defeat for the Vols, who had their three-game winning streak snapped.
Trailing 41-35 at halftime, Auburn opened the second half on a 7-0 run to take a 42-41 lead, but Tennessee regained the lead after going ahead 48 – 42.
However, the Tigers used a 13-3 swing midway through the half to regain the momentum and then held off a late finish from the visitors.
Winning head coach Bruce Pearl was delighted with his team’s victory, noting that Auburn got the travelers exhausted during their second-half run.
Pearl was also full of praise for Okeke.
“He took over the game at times against player of the year type people,” Pearl said. “And none of us were surprised.”
The Tigers are scheduled to begin play in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament on Thursday, but will receive the fourth seed and double bye if South Carolina is defeated in its game.
Tennessee, meanwhile will return to action on Friday in Nashville, when they play in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament after receiving a double bye.