Men's Basketball vs. Auburn

Josiah-Jordan James, No.30, driving offense in the first half of the Tennessee v Auburn game in Thompson Boling Arena on Saturday Feb. 26, 2022.

Vols take down No. 3 Auburn 67-62 to stay a perfect 15-0 at Thompson-Boling Arena this season.

Rick Barnes did something he had never done in his career during a game.

During one of the media timeouts in the second half, Barnes told his team to play for the sold-out crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena.

“I told our guys . . . if you guys will get it going on defense, we’ll get this crowd in the game,” Barnes said. “And I’ve never alluded to the crowd – I don’t know if I’ve ever done that in my career to be honest with you. And I don’t know why I did that today. But I did say that during a timeout.”

The No. 17 Vols did exactly that, using a second-half comeback to take down No. 3 Auburn 67-62 Saturday evening at Thompson-Boling Arena. With their first win over Auburn since 2017 win, the Vols moved to a perfect 15-0 at Thompson-Boling Arena this season, including three wins over AP top-6 teams.

Auburn went ahead 39-28 at the 16:41 mark in the second half, its largest lead of the night. Tennessee held Auburn without a field goal for the next 9:22 as it rattled off a 17-2 run.

The 6-foot-10 forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield pulled up and drained a three to start the run right when Tennessee’s momentum was gone and the energy inside TBA was the lowest of the night.

“Give a lot of credit to Brandon,” junior guard Santiago Vescovi said. “He had a lot of confidence to shoot it, he made it, and he started the whole run to go our way.”

Huntley-Hatfield’s three sparked the Vols’ 11-point second-half comeback. Kennedy Chandler made a layup at the 10:02 mark on a goaltending call by Walker Kessler to put the Vols ahead 43-41, and the Vols never relinquished the lead. They continued to pull away until they had built their lead up to 11 points with under 5 minutes to go, their largest of lead of the night.

The crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena was the extra spark the Vols needed as they outscored Auburn 42-31 in the second half. Freshman guard Zakai Zeigler compared the noise the crowd was making on defense to “having another teammate on the court.”

“I get so locked in I’m almost oblivious to (the crowd). I really am,” Barnes said. “So when I start to hear it, I know it’s loud . . . I do believe we’ve got the best home-court advantage.”

With the win, the Vols moved into a three-way tie for second place in the SEC at 12-4, a game behind first place Auburn (13-3). The Vols also clinched a double-bye as a top-four seed in the upcoming SEC Tournament.

The Vols control their own destiny over the final week, as they will travel to SEC bottom feeder Georgia (1-15) on Tuesday before hosting No. 18 Arkansas next Saturday in a revenge game. Tennessee fell to Arkansas on the road 58-48 a week ago in its worst offensive game of the season.

The Vols know the importance of that final game and the role the home crowd will play in negating Arkansas’ talented team. After the game, Vescovi thanked Tennessee’s fanbase for its contributions against Auburn, and he explicitly asked Tennessee fans to show up ready to go for their regular-season finale.

The Vols will not have home-court advantage once postseason basketball starts – which might come back to hurt them – but for now, they’ll take one more game at Thompson-Boling.

“It’s a crazy feeling,” Zeigler said. “Words cannot explain how Rocky Top is.”

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