Auburn (8-5, 0-2 SEC) at Tennessee (10-5, 1-1)
Wednesday, Jan. 15, 7:05 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) . Knoxville, Tenn.
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: UT leads 72-37
Probable Auburn Starters
G-Tahj Shamsid-Deen, 5-10, 163, FR (8.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 3.5 apg)
G-Chris Denson, 6-2, 180, SR (19.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.1 spg)
G-KT Harrell, 6-4, 216, JR, (19.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, .408 3FG%)
F-Allen Payne, 6-6, 225, SR, (6.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
C-Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, 7-0, 225, SR (6.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.1 bpg)
Key Reserves: Malcolm Canada (6-3, 225, JR); Dion Wade (6-5, 170, FR); Benas Griciunas (7-0, 225, FR)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Antonio Barton, 6-2, 180, SR, (8.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, .418 3FG%)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-6, 185, SR, (18.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.9 apg)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 190, JR, (8.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, .440 3FG%)
F-Jeronne Maymon, 6-8, 260, SR (10.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 3.7 orpg)
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 260, JR, (13.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 4.1 orpg)
Key Reserves: Darius Thompson (6-5, 180, FR); A.J. Davis (6-9, 212, FR); Derek Reese (6-8, 220, SO); D’Montre Edwards (6-6, 205, SR)
The opening tip
After nine of the best halves of basketball played under Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee collapsed in the second half against Texas A&M, blowing a 14-point halftime lead before just barely missing a chance to extend its four-game winning streak.
Still, there are plenty of positives when looking at UT’s current situation. If not for a low-percentage 3-pointer from A&M forward Antwan Space, we’d be talking about a five-game winning streak right now. The defense has been very good as well. SEC opponents are averaging just 53.5 ppg, giving the Vols the best scoring D in the conference so far.
And Wednesday’s opponent, Auburn, is a team the Vols have fared very well against in recent years. The Vols are riding a five-game winning streak over the Tigers and are 43-7 against Auburn in games played in Knoxville.
That’s not to say the Tigers aren’t dangerous to a degree. Four of their five total losses have come to teams with a strong chance at making the NCAA tournament, while their two SEC losses to Missouri and Ole Miss have come by a combined five points.
Two veteran guards – Chris Denson and KT Harrell – lead the way for the Tigers. Both average just under 20 ppg. Defense has been a strong suit for Auburn as well so far in conference play. The Tigers come into Wednesday’s game second in the league in field-goal defense (.381) despite playing two quality opponents so far.
“They’ve done a good job as a team,” Martin said. “They’ve gotten better throughout this short season. Anytime you have two guys hovering around 20 points a night, almost shooting 50 percent from the field as guards, that’s not an easy thing to do with perimeter guys shooting 50 percent from the field.”
Tennessee, meanwhile, needs to get back to what it was doing well before the second-half collapse against the Aggies. That starts with taking better care of the ball. The Vols have turned it over 32 times in the last two, and that average of 16 per game is well above the season average of 10.1.
“Got to get that down,” Martin said. “We’re a better team than that. Have to take care of the basketball to give ourselves a chance to win games. Whether at home or on the road, you have to take care of the basketball. So, got to tighten it up there.”
Keeping stars Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes on the floor will be crucial as well. Both missed a large chunk of the first half on Saturday with foul trouble and came into the second half looking out of sorts.
“Overall, we’re solid and I like where we are. Just have to tighten up some screws here and there.”
– Cuonzo Martin
Tennessee has won seven straight at home over Auburn. The Tigers’ last win in Knoxville came in 1998. No player on UT’s current roster has ever lost to Auburn. . Tennessee is tied for 16th in the nation for fewest turnovers per game (10.1), but so far in SEC play, the Vols come are dead last in the conference, averaging 16 per contest. . Stokes and Jeronne Maymon each have a 15-rebound performance on the season. No other player in the SEC has grabbed that many boards in one contest. … Denson (19.5 ppg) and Harrell (19.0 ppg) are currently second and third in SEC scoring.
Tennessee 68, Auburn 60
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga