Tennessee Vols basketball team wary in visit to Auburn

Tennessee Vols basketball team wary in visit to Auburn

March 5th, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Missouri's Tony Criswell, right, shoots over Tennessee's Josh Richardson, left.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - Some of the SEC's better teams have gone to Auburn and avoided falling into the Tigers' trap this season.

None of the four teams to win at Auburn did so by more than eight points, and Tennessee is hoping to pull off a similar escape when it visits the Plains tonight with SEC tournament seeding and its NCAA tournament life on the line in the regular season's penultimate game.

"I think teams go down there a lot and kind of feel like they can let off a little bit, but Auburn's a good team, so we've got to not look at what's on the front of the jersey and come out and play hard," guard Josh Richardson said before the Volunteers boarded the bus for Auburn.

Since coach Tony Barbee's team lost its first six SEC games, the Tigers have split their 10 games and won four of six games at the 9,121-seat Auburn Arena, which replaced Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum four years ago.

All but one of Auburn's 13 wins this season have come at home, and the Tigers are just 1-8 on the road, the lone win coming at South Carolina a month ago.

"It's kind of like a lot of different teams in the SEC," Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon said. "They play real well at home. The crowd's going to be behind them [because] it's their senior night, and I'm pretty sure they're going to come out and really try to get a win."

Auburn led Missouri by one point inside the final two minutes before losing by two, rallied from a 13-point deficit and entered the game's final two minutes down by one against Florida, led Kentucky by one with eight minutes left before losing by eight and jumped to a 12-2 lead and led Vanderbilt by one with five minutes left before losing by eight.

The inconsistent Vols are looking for their third SEC win in a row for the first time this season, but coach Cuonzo Martin said it's not been a frustrating team to deal with.

"They are good guys, and they want to work and get better," he said Monday. "They are probably one of the best teams I've been around as far as chemistry and being with each other, but I just think from an individual standpoint, each guy, the demand to be great and the time it takes to sacrifice, the commitment on both ends of the floor is probably the biggest key.

"We say all the time as coaches, one possession at a time, but you've got to take that where it's a premium with everything you do on both ends of the floor."

Tennessee delivered one of its best defensive performances of the season in holding Vanderbilt to 38 points last Saturday, but the Vols allowed their opponent to shoot 47 percent or better in three of their last four road games.

"I can't really say anything about it," Richardson said. "I don't really know. I just know we've got to pick it up tomorrow."

Said Martin: "You hope your shots are falling, and again I tell the guys all the time, you've got to be able to defend, rebound and play hard. I think one of the things is we don't have a lot of guys with defensive DNA, where this is what I do for a living."

Auburn's Chris Denson is the SEC's second-leading scorer and has nine 20-point and two 30-point games in SEC play. The senior scored 24 points in the Tigers' 67-58 loss in Knoxville in January, and he's coming off a six-point performance in Auburn's 73-57 loss at Alabama on Saturday.

"Denson's probably one of the best in the nation in getting in the lane and finishing, especially for his size," Richardson said.

In a similar spot last March, Tennessee needed a 9-0 spurt just past the halfway point of the second half to break open a close game and win 82-75, and the Vols know tonight won't be a breeze.

"We've been through it two years already," Richardson said. "We can't start overlooking anything. We can't look too far in the future. We've just got to play where we're at now."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.