The SEC's only ranked-vs-ranked battle of the day was an exciting one for those who prefer methodical defensive-heavy battles.
In a game that neither team shot over 30% from the field, it would be the home-standing Volunteers that would squeak by with a win. The No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers held on to defeat No. 23 Auburn, 46-43 on Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.
Auburn's Wendell Green Jr. nailed a three-pointer with 0:30 remaining to trim Tennessee's lead to 44-41. Auburn would then force a turnover and score a basket underneath the goal to cut the lead to 44-43. The Tigers then began to foul in hopes of their counterparts missing their free-throw opportunities.
However, Tennessee's Zakai Zeigler succeeded in his free-throw attempts to push the Volunteers back in front by three points. Green would take the final shot for the Tigers from three-point territory, but his shot would not fall.
During his shot, he was bumped by Tennessee's Oliver Nkamhoua. However, the officiating crew did not deem the contact foul-worthy, thus taking away Green's chances of tying the game and forcing overtime.
Tennessee ended the first half with a 23-19 lead in a defensive-heavy first 20 minutes. Neither team shot over 30% from the field, and each team was only able to connect on one three-pointer. Auburn ended the half by missing its final nine shots from the field.
Auburn opened the game with an 8-0 run. Nkamhoua missed his first five shots in the stretch before making his first basket with just under 16 minutes remaining to put Tennessee on the board.
Johni Broome led the team in points at the first media timeout by making all three of his shot opportunities on his way to posting six points in Auburn's 10-4 lead with 14:54 remaining in the half. The Tigers made 56% of their shots while Tennessee connected on just 18% of their attempts.
The Volunteers grabbed their first lead of the game with 9:17 remaining when Uros Plavsic made a layup to put his team ahead, 13-12. He was immediately called for a technical foul for alleged taunting. K.D. Johnson made just one of his three free-throw attempts, but it would be enough to tie the game again at 13-13.
Tennessee extended their lead to 17-13 before Wendell Green Jr. connected on a three-pointer to cut Tennessee's lead to one with 5:49 remaining in the first half. The field goal was Auburn's first in a stretch that lasted 9:55.
The slow momentum that both teams carried into the locker room followed each team into the second half, as Auburn outscored Tennessee, 4-3 in the first five minutes of the second half as the Volunteers led 26-23 at the first media timeout of the half. Over the next two minutes, Auburn would tie Tennessee at 28-28 on a three-point jumper by Allen Flanigan.
Tennessee would slowly build a comfortable lead with five minutes remaining, 40-34. Auburn would not go away, however, as they cut the lead to four as the game reached the under-four-minute mark on two free throws by Johnson. By the 3:24 mark in the second half, Auburn and Tennessee had matched each other step-by-step by scoring 17 points each in the half.
Jaylin Williams trimmed Tennessee's lead to 40-38 with 2:49 remaining by making both of his free throw tries, but Tennessee's Santiago Vescovi was fouled on a successful three-point play, which then put Tennessee ahead by six points with under two minutes to play.
Tennessee had a chance to put the game out of reach with 0:39 remaining in the game, but Tobe Awaka missed both of his free throw attempts. On the ensuing possession, Green connected on a heat-check three-pointer that would pull Auburn to within one possession of the Volunteers, 44-41.
It was a poor-shooting effort from both teams, as neither team reached 30% shooting from the field. The Volunteers made just 27% of their attempts, while Auburn connected on 24% of their shots. Both teams also combined to make just five three-pointers in the contest, with Auburn winning the advantage by succeeding on three shots from beyond-the-arc.
Auburn continues its road trip on Tuesday by traveling to Bryan-College Station, Texas to face Texas A&M in hopes to get retaliation following a home loss to the Aggies on Jan. 25. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT.
Auburn Basketball is on the edge of KenPom top 25 ranking after defeating Georgia
Story originally appeared on Auburn Wire