GAME NOTES: The Auburn Tigers try to find the win column for the first time in a month on Wednesday night, as they entertain the Tennessee Volunteers in SEC action at Auburn Arena.
Heading into its latest game, Tennessee had been winners of six straight decisions, including an outstanding 64-58 triumph over nationally-ranked Florida, to put itself on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but it suffered a huge setback last Saturday with a 78-68 loss at Georgia. At 17-11 overall and 9-7 in the league, the Vols will more than likely need to win their last two games and get some help if they want a top-four seed and a bye in the upcoming SEC Tournament.
Meanwhile, Auburn (9-20) has been the SEC's worst team of late, as it has dropped seven straight games since posting a win versus Alabama on Feb. 6. The Tigers, who will honor their seniors tonight, hosted Vanderbilt last Saturday night and came away with a 62-55 defeat, and at 3-13 in conference, they are tied with South Carolina and Mississippi State for last place in the standings.
Tennessee has beaten Auburn on four straight occasions to extend its lead in the all-time series to a resounding 71-37.
The Volunteers saw their six-game win streak come to an end on Saturday, as they shot less than 39 percent from the floor in the 10-point loss to Georgia. Despite the team's relative struggles from the floor, Jordan McRae was nothing short of outstanding. Not only were his 35 points a career-high, but it was the most for a Tennessee player since 2006, and his eight 3-pointers were the second-most in a single game in school history. Kenny Hall came off the bench to net 10 points, while Jarnell Stokes finished with eight points and 10 rebounds. Unfortunately for UT, it has been held back by a rather modest offense all season long, as it scores only 66.4 ppg, but it has made itself a contender behind a defensive effort that yields just 63.1 ppg. McRae averages a team-best 16.0 ppg and that figure has shot up in recent weeks thanks to a red-hot, four-game stretch where he's put up 29.8 ppg. Stokes is a nightly double-double threat with 12.4 ppg and 9.2 rpg, while Trae Golden pours in 11.8 ppg and has twice as many assists (105) as turnovers (52).
While Auburn was able to keep its latest game within striking distance much of the way, it could never get over the hump, failing to get closer than four points in the second half. The team played excellent defense, holding Vanderbilt to less than 33 percent field goal efficiency, but couldn't take advantage with its attempts from the floor (.357). Chris Denson was the lone player to net in double figures, logging 16 points in 30 minutes off the bench. It's no surprise that the Tigers are cellar dwellers in the SEC when analyzing their numbers, as they rank in the bottom-half of the league in both scoring offense (64.3 ppg) and scoring defense (68.1 ppg). On the surface, Frankie Sullivan appears to be having a strong season with 14.1 ppg, but his field goal percentage has been underwhelming to say the least (.366), and he has been virtually invisible over the past several weeks, scoring in single- digits in seven of the last eight games. Denson (11.1 ppg, .472 FG percentage) does what he can coming off the bench, while Rob Chubb brings some semblance of stability to the frontcourt with 8.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 1.1 bpg.
Auburn will be playing with pride in this one as it closes Auburn Arena for the season, so an upset isn't out of the question, especially considering Tennessee's disappointing away record (3-7). That said, the Vols are the superior team and they will find a way to get over their road woes.
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