The Tennessee Vols traveled to Auburn on Saturday for a big match-up in the SEC, especially if the Vols were going to take advantage of a few Quadrant 1 win opportunities.
Knowing that Auburn was going to shoot a good amount of three-point shots, Tennessee had to take advantage of the Tigers not having star Isaac Okoro.
Rick Barnes has been preaching to us that Jordan Bowden would eventually find his shot, to go along with his solid defense. Well, if the first half was any indication, he found it.
Bowden, who has struggled this season to spark the Vols in the scoring category, found himself in uncharted territory.
Bowden finished with 17 points and five assists in the first half, going 5-of-5 from the field, 2-of-2 from deep and hitting all five free throws. This was a breakout performance that Tennessee desperately needed, especially with John Fulkerson only playing three minutes, due to fouls.
Tennessee led 41-33 at halftime. The Vols shot 52 percent from FG range and 42 percent from three. Tennessee didn’t back down, they just went straight at Auburn in those first 20 minutes. The Tigers shot 21 percent from three-point range.
But today, it was a tale of two halves. After jumping out to a 17-point lead, the wheels seemed to fall off for the Vols.
Tennessee led 54-37 at the 14:35 mark, but in the span of just over six minutes, Auburn had went on a 10-0 run, helped by five turnovers in 3:49 of this run. Tennessee had 19 turnovers at the 10:42 mark of the second half. This was only going to get worse.
With Santiago Vescovi on the bench in foul trouble and Fulkerson dealing with his own fouls, Auburn extended its run. The Tigers had taken a 55-54 lead at the 7:32 mark, with a remarkable 18-0 run. The Vols weren’t helping themselves, as the turnovers continued to pile up, along with some poor shot selection.
Tennessee wasn’t folding though, even when they blew a huge lead. Bowden continued his monster game with a huge baseline dunk, which gave the Vols a 60-57 lead.
Bowden wants it bad. pic.twitter.com/AHNNREiwDh
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) February 22, 2020
Tennessee continued to fight though, making some key free throws to tie the game up around the 1:45 mark. Unfortunately for the Vols, Devan Cambridge drained a 3-pointer with 1:38 remaining to give Auburn the 67-64 lead.
Vescovi drove the basket for a one-handed layup, cutting the Auburn lead to 67-66, keeping them alive. But after Auburn made a basket on the other end, Tennessee came up scoreless on their possession, ending any chance of a win.
Auburn ended up draining free throws and winning 73-66. The Tigers outscored the Vols 36-12 over the last 14:31, leading to the very painful loss. I didn’t agree with Barnes not using a timeout during the 18-0 run, not many people will. But, I don’t get paid $5 million per year to make those decisions. I guess he thought it wouldn’t help, or that they could fight through it. Momentum had built up in Auburn Arena, which Tennessee couldn’t quiet down.
This was an opportunity for Tennessee, and it blew it. It wasn’t that Auburn was playing so well, it was the fact Tennessee helped them across the finish line. You’re not going to win many games with 24 turnovers, but Tennessee still had a chance in the last 1:15. That’s what will stick with the Vols even more. Despite how bad you played during that stretch, you still had a shot.
Tennessee could’ve used this potential win as a springboard toward NCAA Tournament bubble watch, now they’ll most likely have to win their last four regular season games and grab one in Nashville.
It’s been such a wild season for Tennessee. Bowden scoring a career high 28 points and the Vols still losing is probably the surprise of the season so far.
You wanna know the crazy part?
The SEC and college basketball has been so backwards this season, there’s still an opportunity for Tennessee. They’ve just got to go on a streak to get it. Continue playing like this though, they’ll be sitting at home come mid-March.