AUBURN, Ala. – The Auburn Tigers, who don’t have a postseason to look forward to, at least gave themselves something to celebrate with March looming.
Allen Flanigan scored a season-high 23 points and had seven rebounds to lead Auburn to a 77-72 victory over No. 25 Tennessee on Saturday. The Tigers (12-13, 6-10 Southeastern Conference) snapped a three-game losing streak even without freshman point guard Sharife Cooper, out for the second straight game with a left ankle injury.
“There hasn’t been a ton of joy in Mudville after games, but you could see the kids just haven’t quit,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, whose team is playing under a self-imposed postseason ban and isn’t an NCAA Tournament candidate anyway.
“And somehow we were the most excited team to play, which is really, really hard to do. Our starters were terrific. They all stepped up in a huge, huge way.”
The Tigers had all five starters score in double figures against the Volunteers (16-7, 9-7), a one-time Top 10 team that did make a late charge led by freshmen Keon Johnson and Jared Springer.
It wasn’t enough.
Devan Cambridge matched his season-high with 15 points and Jamal Johnson scored 14 for the Tigers and had just one turnover while playing out of position at point guard. Jaylin Williams added 13 and JT Thor 10. Williams made 8 of 10 free throws after coming in 17 of 31 for the season.
Johnson led the Vols with 23 points and Springer scored 20 while making 3 of 4 3-pointers. Springer added six assists and five rebounds.
Yves Pons finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Springer made a 3-pointer down the stretch before his steal, basket and subsequent foul shot.
Johnson then added a long jump shot with 20 seconds left, making it 74-70. It was ruled a two-pointer after an official review.
Johnson added a quick layup after Cambridge missed two foul shots, but Flanigan put it away with a pair from the line.
“Three guys really brought energy today,” Vols coach Rick Barnes said. “Jaden had been fighting a cold but I thought he and Keon and Yves Pons, all three of those guys did exactly what we’d like them to do.
“Other than that, I would say not so much. Whether it was energy or lack of confidence, because when you’re not playing with confidence I think it can drain you a little bit.”
Flanigan thrived while playing at his normal wing spot after spending significant time at point guard this season.
“It helped a lot, as you can see,” he said. “The confidence. Just me being in my natural habitat, my natural space out there on the floor, relieves a lot of pressure off me.”
Flanigan gave Auburn its biggest lead to that point, 64-55, with a contested 3-pointer from the top of the key followed by two free throws on the next possession with less than six minutes remaining. It grew to 12 in the final two minutes before Tennessee fought back.
Victor Bailey Jr., who had scored 68 points over the previous three games, was held to nine before fouling out. He didn’t score until making one of his three 3-pointers early in the second half.
Auburn took a 34-30 lead into halftime after making 5 of 6 free throws over the final 37 seconds. That included a technical foul against Barnes following a delayed foul call.
Auburn wound up making 24 of 37 free throws after missing its first four. The Tigers also outrebounded Tennessee 41-34.
“We don’t have a post game, and that’s something that we’ve always had at Tennessee,” Barnes said.
Tennessee: The preseason league favorite continues to have problems, especially offensively. Tennessee has lost two of its last three games, both to teams with losing SEC marks and fell to 4-4 in games at opponents’ arenas.
Auburn: The Tigers have won six straight against Tennessee. This was a nice mood changer for a struggling young team that won’t play in the postseason two years after making the Final Four. Auburn moved to 2-2 against Top 25 teams.
Tennessee will likely fall out of the poll after rising as high as No. 6 this season.
Tennessee: finishes its regular season with a home game against Florida on Sunday, March 7.
Auburn: visits state rival No. 6 Alabama on Tuesday night.