KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The atmosphere wasn’t as electric for the second return of former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl to Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday night.
In fairness to the 14,755 fans who showed up, the Vols didn’t give them much to get excited about. Auburn beat up the Vols around the basketball on the way to a 94-84 victory. A fan did yell late in the second half that Pearl was “going to jail” because of the FBI investigation. So, the emotions still were running hot.
Tennessee squandered a double-digit first half lead to go into the half trailing 42-36. The Vols would take the lead for about only 4 minutes in the second half.
Tennessee falls to 9-4 this season and 0-2 in the SEC with Kentucky coming to Knoxville on Saturday.
Here are 3-things from the game:
Auburn controlled the boards the entire game. It held around an 8-rebound advantage from around the 4-minute mark in the first half. The Tigers finished with a 46-38 rebounding advantage. Specifically, the offensive boards were where the Tigers held an advantage over the Vols.
Auburn finished with 22 offensive rebounds, and Tennessee had 24 defensive rebounds. That stat line will cost most teams wins in SEC play.
The added possessions gave the Tigers 28 second-chance points. Auburn attempted 16 more shots than Tennessee.
Need more from Grant Williams
Sophomore forward Grant Williams is Tennessee’s best player and at times showed he was the best player on the court Tuesday. The problem was most of the time the Tigers took him out of the game.
He had 5 points in the first half but responded with 7 points in the first five minutes of the second and finished with 22. The Vols need more consistent play from Williams.
He also had 8 rebounds. When the Vols are getting beat that badly on the boards, Williams probably needs to play closer to the basket and help out with the rebounding effort.
Williams is the only player on the roster who has first-team All-SEC potential. Coach Rick Barnes needs to find a way to unlock it more often.
Kyle Alexander continues to be a plus/minus darling
Barnes continues to hold back on playing junior forward Kyle Alexander more than 25 minutes. He played 20 minutes in the loss but was effective when on the floor. He finished with a team-best plus-12 when on the floor for the Vols, and he he routinely posts one of the best plus/minus ratios on the team.
At 6-10 he could have challenged Auburn on the boards, as well. Alexander finished with 6 rebounds.
Alexander, who scored two points in the loss, plays hard and is a solid interior defender.