AUBURN, Ala. – Frankie Sullivan and Josh Wallace badly wanted this win. But Tennessee needed it.
Sullivan’s sudden awakening from his scoring slumber, and Wallace’s season-high offense, helped keep Auburn competitive for the majority of their Senior Night. But the Volunteers burst the Tigers’ bubble with a comeback 82-75 victory Wednesday at Auburn Arena before an announced attendance of 5,420 fans.
The effort and passion were there, but once again, the result was not. Auburn (9-21, 3-14 SEC) has lost eight straight games, and 14 of 15 – the program’s worst stretch since 1943-44.
“We just wanted to leave the fans with a good taste in their mouths,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think we did that this year as seniors – we fought, but the winning aspect of it, it’s disappointing.”
Auburn was in foul trouble all night, and it came back to bite the Tigers’ senior guards in the end. Frankie Sullivan had to sit the final 2 minutes, 22 seconds on a controversial offensive charge call, his fifth foul drawing boos from the crowd.
The foul count was Auburn 27, Tennessee 16.
“Sometimes you’ve got to go with the wind,” Sullivan said. “They were calling it real tight tonight, so I felt like it was good for us to start driving the ball in the second half, but obviously it didn’t play out in our favor at the end of the game.”
Sullivan, who hadn’t scored more than 14 points since Jan. 19, exploded for 24 on 9-for-20 shooting. He was 2-for-9 from beyond the 3-point line, and committed seven turnovers, making it tough for him to appreciate his stat line.
“You take my seven turnovers away, we probably win the ball game,” Sullivan said. “I was being aggressive tonight and the shots were falling for me, but I don’t care about the points. I’m all about the win.”
Wallace picked up his third and fourth fouls earlier than hoped, sending him into a revolving door between the floor and the bench. He fouled out in the final minute, but not before a season-best 14 points (5-7 FG, 4-4 FT).
“It hurts. It hurts. I mean, I wanted to get the fans a win, a little something to look forward to next year,” Wallace said. “But … it hurts. The whole team wanted this one.”
Added Barbee: “He gave everything he could to win this game. If you could transplant Josh’s heart into every player in this game, you’d have some (great) players out there.”
Overall, the Volunteers (18-11, 10-7) were 27-for-38 from the line, and that included a 1-for-10 clip by forward Jarnell Stokes. Stokes did contribute a double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds), helping Tennessee avoid a destructive defeat to their perilous NCAA tournament chances.
Tennessee guards Jordan McRae and Trae Golden each led their team with 21 points a piece, combining to go 16-for-18 from the stripe. Auburn’s whole team was 10-for-12.
“We had four more field goals, two more threes, and a team takes 26 more foul shots than you do,” Barbee said. “Never seen that before. That’s the difference in the ball game.”
Chris Denson, one of Auburn’s most consistent scorers in SEC play, sat out with a back injury. Barbee said it flared up on the Shaw product during shootaround, and Denson participated in warmups but never removed his warmups during the game.
Of the other seniors, Rob Chubb had six points, seven rebounds and two blocks; Noel Johnson hit a trio of 3-pointers; and walk-on Dylan Spencer – who’d played seven games in his four-year career without scoring before – hit a 3-pointer to send Auburn Arena into pandemonium. Spencer led the Tigers in scoring at the first media timeout, logging 4:11 of playing time.
“It was a big moment. You see the love and camaraderie this team has,” Barbee said. “When he made that three, not only did the (student section) go crazy, but the whole bench went crazy for him.”
All five seniors comprised the starting lineup.
“I’m disappointed they couldn’t go out with a win in front of the home court, but those five guys represent everything that’s right in college athletics,” Barbee said. “All five of them. They’re going to be very successful in life and represent as Auburn men in an unbelievable way.”
- The birthday boy didn’t have such a bad night: freshman guard Jordan Price, who turned 19 Wednesday, has struggled with his shot for the entire SEC schedule, but he was 3-for-3 from deep on his birthday.
- The Tigers were ahead 35-32 at the break. Auburn has led at halftime in just four of its past 20 games dating back to Dec. 22, in addition to home games with Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M. All four margins were one possession, and Auburn went on to lose all four games.
- Now knotted with Mississippi State on bottom of the SEC standings, Auburn’s SEC finish is clear. The Tigers go to Starkville Saturday afternoon; the loser finishes in last place, and will open the SEC men’s basketball tournament in Nashville Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET against the No. 11 seed. Saturday’s winner will play in the 12-13 game Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET.