Auburn’s 83-77 victory over Tennessee in its SEC opener meant a little bit more to Auburn coach Bruce Pearl.
Pearl, who spent seven years coaching in Knoxville, Tenn., earned a bit of revenge against the program that fired him in the wake of a 2011 NCAA investigation. It was Pearl’s first victory against the program he had led to two Sweet Sixteen appearances and an Elite EIght. It was also Auburn’s first victory in an SEC opener since the 2012-13 season and its first win in nine contests against the Vols.
“That’s one we had to have,” Pearl said of the victory according to AL.com’s James Crepea.
Auburn senior forward Tyler Harris said he was motivated to beat the Volunteers for his coach.
“I wanted to beat them just as bad as Bruce wanted to beat them,” Harris said according to The Opelika-Auburn News’ Tom Green.
The game was decided beyond the 3-point line. Pearl’s squad went 12 for 26 from beyond the arc and the Volunteers couldn’t buy a 3-point basket during their third road defeat of the season. Rick Barnes’ squad was utterly anemic from 3-point land, going 3 for 28.
Barnes did not have much pleasant to say about Tennessee’s scoring on Saturday.
“We were terrible on the offensive end,” Barnes said, according to Green.
Auburn (7-5, 1-0) controlled the game much of the way, but Tennessee (7-6, 0-1) refused to go away. After trailing for most of the first half, the Vols staged a 9-3 run to close the half leading 36-34. Tennessee fell behind early in the second half, but was never down by more than 11. The Volunteers were unable to get closer than a 5-point deficit amid poor free throw shooting by the Tigers in the late stages.
The Tigers were able to prevail despite turning the ball over 17 times and being outrebounded by a 48-37 margin.
“We’ve got to do a better job ourselves of competing on the boards,” Pearl said according to Green.
A pair of players from the New York City boroughs shined on Saturday. Tennessee senior guard Kevin Punter, a Bronx, NY native, led all scorers with a season-high 31 points on the day. Auburn junior guard Kareem Canty, who hails from Harlem, NY, led Auburn with 20 points along with freshman guard Bryce Brown.
Canty took only 12 shots on the night, which he laughed about after the game, but Barnes said Canty always had the freedom to shoot whenever he wanted to on Saturday.
“He definitely got the green light – maybe the greenest of the green,” Barnes said according to Green.
Auburn will have a couple of days to prepare before hosting No. 24 South Carolina on Tuesday while Tennessee will host Florida for its SEC home opener.