Green Jr. guides Auburn past No. 12 Tennessee
AUBURN, Ala. - Securing its fifth 20-win season in six years, Auburn took control down the stretch to beat No. 12 Tennessee 79-70 Saturday at Neville Arena, all but guaranteeing the Tigers' an NCAA Tournament bid.
"Twenty wins matters," said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, whose five 20-win seasons at Auburn are two more than any coach in program history. "We care about making history. This team made history."
Wendell Green Jr. led Auburn with 24 points while Johni Broome scored 17 and grabbed seven rebounds.
"Every game is win or go home," Green said. "Nobody's really worried about their stats. We're sharing the ball and taking open shots. I think we've been taking better care of the ball for the last few games. If we keep doing that and make some shots, we're in great standing."
Seniors and four-year program standouts Allen Flanigan and Jaylin Williams contributed mightily to the victory. Flanigan scored 16 points and made 2-of-3 3-pointers, while Williams scored 13 points and led Auburn with eight rebounds and seven assists.
"Tennessee is a really good, physical team. One of the top teams in the SEC," Williams said. "It was a good win for us."
Trailing 63-60 after Tennessee hit its sixth consecutive shot, Auburn began a decisive 9-0 run with Broome's tip-in. Williams scored with 4:25 to play to give Auburn a lead it would not relinquish.
After Williams made a pair of free throws, Flanigan culminated the run by scoring on a drive, drawing a foul and making the free throw to put the Tigers on top 69-63.
Green's and-one gave Auburn a 72-64 lead with 1:37 to play. After Tennessee made two free throws, the Tigers beat UT's full-court press when Williams threw a baseball pass in stride to Green for a layup that put the game out of reach, giving the Tigers a 15-0 edge in fast-break points.
Auburn overcame Tennessee's 35-29 rebounding advantage by valuing possessions, distributing 18 assists while committing only six turnovers and outscoring the Volunteers 21-4 in points off turnovers.
"Huge," Pearl said of Auburn's assist-to-turnover ratio. "This team has been one of the best at taking care of the ball that I've had. I've had some pretty good teams."
The Tigers outscored Tennessee 49-36 in the second half and the Volunteers missed their last seven shots over the final 6 minutes and 13 seconds.
Auburn trailed 34-27 in the closing seconds of the first half after a 7-0 Tennessee run but Green beat the buzzer when Williams found him with an inbounds pass for a corner 3-pointer.
"It was a great team effort," Pearl said. "It was an important win for us. We've played the toughest schedule in the league, having to play Tennessee, Alabama and A&M twice and at Kentucky."
The Tigers (20-11, 10-8) head to Nashville, Tennessee, next week for the SEC Tournament, with final seedings and matchups to be determined at the conclusion of Saturday's conference schedule.