Saturday night’s SEC Tournament semifinal game between Tennessee and Kentucky felt like a heavyweight title fight.
Based on Sunday’s result, the Vols might have taken too many punches from the Wildcats. Auburn methodically outshot Tennessee en route to an 84-64 win in the title game at Bridgestone Arena—an arena packed with Vol fans.
“When you’re playing for championships, it (recovering from the previous game) shouldn’t be difficult. But it is,” Admiral Schofield said. “It’s a factor…we beat ourselves tonight. That’s all that went into this game. We really beat ourselves.”
Junior guard Lamonte Turner hit the game-winning shot against Kentucky on Saturday. On Sunday, it seemed as if he was the only who remembered the Vols still had another game to win.
Turner led Tennessee with 24 points on 7 of 12 shooting, including a 4 of 6 effort from deep.
“I think when I’m focusing on winning and just trying to do whatever for my team, scoring comes naturally,” Turner said. “I think that’s really all I did today.”
In the early stages, it appeared as if Tennessee wouldn’t have any problems getting over the emotional hurdle of Saturday’s knock-down, drag-out war.
At the under 12:00 media timeout in the first half, the Vols led, 15-11. Time would turn things in Auburn’s favor.
The Tigers went on a 20-7 run, taking a controlling lead. They lead 32-23 at the intermission, despite playing without guard Jared Harper for much of the half due to two early fouls.
Tennessee turned the ball over 12 times in the first half, leading to 13 Auburn points. The Vols turned it over on seven straight possessions at one point.
“That killed us this game in the first half and some of the second,” Jordan Bowden said. “That’s one thing we can’t do. We can’t turn the ball over against a team that can score in transition. Coach said they scored 21 points off turnovers, and we lost by 20.”
Tennessee attempted to crawl back into the game multiple times in the second half.
With every step forward, Auburn would drill a 3-pointer and push the Vols further back. Tennessee would usually compound the problem with a turnover.
The Tigers finished the game shooting 15 of 40 from beyond the arc.
“I don’t know how many teams there are out there like that, to be honest with you,” Schofield said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. You gotta credit them.”
Junior forward Grant Williams scored 13 points on 6 of 9 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds. He turned the ball over four times.
Bowden scored 10 points on 4 of 6 shooting. Schofield was held to just four points, going 1 of 8 from the floor.
The Vols now await their fate in the NCAA Tournament, with Selection Sunday set to reveal the bracket later in the evening. Tennessee is projected to earn a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance.
“We play for the big one in March, the one we dreamt of as kids,” Williams said. “Sure, it (loss to Auburn) hurts, but it’s going to help us learn, though. It’s going to allow us to understand that heartbreak and understand that we never want to feel that same feeling again.”