AUBURN, Ala. − Tennessee basketball ended its regular season with an all-too-familiar road loss and squandered a shot at a double-bye in the SEC Tournament.
The Vols lost their fifth straight game away from Thompson-Boling Arena, squandering multiple leads at Auburn with defensive gaffes and a late field-goal drought.
Tennessee fell 79-70 at Auburn’s Neville Arena in its first game following point guard Zakai Zeigler‘s season-ending torn ACL in his left knee Tuesday against Arkansas.
“We just had way, way, way too many defensive breakdowns in areas that we haven’t in a long time,” Vols coach Rick Barnes said.
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Santiago Vescovi led the No. 14 Vols (22-9, 11-7 SEC) with 21 points and five 3-pointers. The Vols have not won on the road since Jan. 21 at LSU. UT won its first four SEC road games.
Tennessee’s SEC Tournament seeding
The Vols are the No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament and will face either No. 12 South Carolina or No. 13 Ole Miss on Thursday (approx. 3 p.m. ET, SEC Network). The Vols finished in a fourth-place tie but Missouri held the tiebreaker thanks to its 86-85 win at Thompson-Boling Arena on Feb. 11.
Auburn took advantage of Tennessee’s turnovers
Tennessee didn’t have major turnovers problems Saturday with 11 gaffes. But Auburn (20-11, 10-8) made the most of the miscues, scoring 21 points off UT’s turnovers. The Tigers had back-to-back three-point plays to bury the Vols in the final minutes, both of which were off UT turnovers.
The Vols made six straight second-half field goals to take a 63-60 lead, then did not make a field goal in the final 6:13. The Vols had four points off Auburn’s six turnovers.
Tennessee controlled the end of the first half − until the buzzer
Tennessee dominated the final 3:33 before halftime, scoring seven straight points and shutting down the Tigers. Wendell Green Jr. hit a corner 3-pointer at the buzzer to snap Tennessee’s outstanding stretch.
Vescovi hit a 3-pointer to start UT’s 7-0 run to take a 34-27 lead. He had 11 first-half points. Josiah-Jordan James scored on a baseline drive and reverse layup. Tobe Awaka keyed a stretch with excellent perimeter defense on Auburn guard K.D. Johnson, then an offensive rebound and assist to Uros Plavsic for a layup.
Tennessee will play in the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.