The race for second place in the Southeastern Conference will heat up this weekend when No. 2 Tennessee hosts No. 25 Auburn in Knoxville on Saturday afternoon.
The Volunteers (18-4, 7-2) and Tigers (17-5, 7-2 ) enter the weekend tied with Texas A&M and two games back of league leader Alabama, which is ranked No. 4 and a perfect 9-0 in the conference. The unranked Aggies are home against Georgia on Saturday night.
Tennessee and Auburn are coming off decidedly different performances Wednesday. The Vols shot 27.9 percent from the field — a season low in SEC play — in a 67-54 loss at Florida that snapped a four-game winning streak.
“Our guys are disappointed,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We’re better than this, but tonight we weren’t.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, scored a season high in a 94-73 romp at home over Georgia to get back on track after suffering back-to-back losses to Texas A&M and West Virginia. The win comes at a potentially pivotal moment for the Tigers, who have games against the Aggies, Crimson Tide and a resurgent Missouri coming up after the trip to Knoxville.
“We’ve got nine games left and we’re probably going to be an underdog in six of them,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “We’ve got to win the ones we’re supposed to win and can win, and we’ve got to see if we can pick up a couple that are really hard to get starting Saturday at Tennessee.”
Auburn senior Allen Flanigan led four double-figure scorers against Georgia with 22 points. He made 8 of 10 shots from the field, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range, and added a couple of steals.
“When Al plays with that rhythm and tempo, and plays without a turnover, he does things inside and out, and defensively,” Pearl said.
Johni Broome had a huge double-double with 19 points and 18 rebounds, and Wendell Green Jr. had 18 points and K.D. Johnson 13 for the Tigers, who shot 56.3 percent from the field.
Despite its cold-shooting night, Tennessee had a 44-38 lead at Florida with just over 10 minutes left in the game, but the Gators, who led 27-21 at the break, responded with a 17-2 surge that put them up 55-46 with 5:12 left.
Zakai Zeigler, who struggled from the field (6 of 19) but led the Vols with 15 points, hit a 3-pointer a minute later to get the deficit down to 55-49, but the Gators outscored the Vols 12-5 the rest of the way.
“We’ve shown we can be a good team, but we’ve had these games, too. A lot of teams have,” Barnes said. “We had some open looks that we’re going to have to make to be the team that we want to be.”
The Vols came into the game shooting 44.7 percent overall and 33.9 on 3-pointers but were only 19-for-68 overall and 5-for-25 from behind the arc against the Gators.
–Field Level Media