Unranked Charlotte? Check.
Top-ranked Kansas? Check.
SEC foe Auburn?
That was Thursday night’s test for the Tennessee basketball team.
But not one Bruce Pearl’s squad couldn’t handle.
The Vols used a late first-half surge to stage a comeback victory over SEC foe Auburn 81-55 at Thompson-Boling Arena for Tennessee’s first conference win of the year.
“Good rebound from a poor start,” Pearl said. “I thought Auburn brought great energy, great effort and intensity to start the game. We didn’t start well.”
Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince led the way for Tennessee with 14 points apiece while Scotty Hopson added 11. Wayne Chism chipped in a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The Tigers (9-8, 0-2 SEC) connected on 10 of 24 three pointers in the first half and set the tone early with a barrage of perimeter shots. A Frankie Sullivan three pointer gave Auburn a 34-22 lead with just under six minutes left in the first half.
“They came out, and they were hitting some good shots,” forward Kenny Hall said. “They are a good shooting team. You expect that from a great shooting team, but as far as our standpoint, we probably stepped up a few times.”
It was then that UT’s offense sparked, and Auburn’s sputtered.
The Vols (13-2, 1-0) finished the half on a 16-3 run to hold a 38-37 lead at intermission.
“We did a great job of responding to that run,” Chism said.
The second half was all Tennessee. The Vols outscored Auburn 43-18, limiting the Tigers to only 26 percent shooting after the break. After opening the game 42 percent from three point range, Auburn shot only 1 for 11 from the perimeter in the second half.
Tennessee scored 26 points off 17 Tiger turnovers. Auburn only connected on six 2-point shots in the contest.
“To only give up six two-point field goals in the SEC is pretty darn good defense,” Pearl said.
Fresh off Sunday’s nationally-televised win over No. 1 Kansas, Chism admitted the Vols’ slow start was expected.
“You try your best to play hard after you beat a number one team in the country,” Chism said. “But sometimes you lose focus, and that’s what happened.
“But coach said, ‘You ain’t playing that team no more!’ We responded to it, and played good down the stretch.”