AUBURN, Ala. (AP)—Auburn finally found a way to beat a ranked team, and it meant another jarring defeat for No. 22 Tennessee.
Quan Prowell made four free throws in the final 22 seconds—including two following a costly technical foul against Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl—and the Tigers rallied from a 14-point deficit over the final 10 minutes for an 83-80 victory on Wednesday night.
Auburn (12-7, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) used an 18-0 run and late free throw shooting to snap a 15-game losing streak against Top 25 teams that went back nearly three years.
“We just kept believing,” said Frank Tolbert, who led Auburn with 24 points. “We never got down on ourselves that we were going to lose that game. No matter how much we were down we were always thinking we were going to win this game.”
The Volunteers (13-5, 1-2) had lost their last two games to Vanderbilt and Ohio State by a combined three points on shots in the final seconds. They took another big blow after leading 66-52 midway through the second half.
“You lose a few games and certainly it rattles you a little bit, but we’ve been there,” Pearl said.
He wasn’t nearly so calm during one frantic sequence that helped the Tigers ice the game.
Auburn kept the ball alive after three consecutive misses and Tolbert won the scramble for the final loose ball, calling a timeout after hitting the floor while Dane Bradshaw was trying to fight for possession.
Pearl drew a technical from official Tom Lopes protesting the play and Prowell made two free throws with 22 seconds left—hitting two more shortly after that to make it 83-77.
“I didn’t think he had to give it to me in that situation, and I think you have to have possession of the basketball to get a timeout,” Pearl said. “Bradshaw reacted the right away. He was very surprised by the timeout, because he’s like, ‘My hands were on the ball right away.”’
The Vols had to foul Prowell with 20 seconds to play, but Pearl defended the timing of his technical.
“I’m going stand up for my kids,” he said. “I’m going to fight to the end.”
Suspended for much of the season for violation of team rules, Prowell had attempted only 12 free throws in his previous seven games but he asked to take the ones for the technical.
“During the game when I was shooting foul shots they were going in pretty good,” said Prowell, who had 19 of his 21 points in the second half. “I felt like I could make them at the end of the game, too.”
He made all six attempts from the line.
Chris Lofton hit a 3-pointer with less than a second left, not enough time for the Vols to get the ball back.
The Tigers went 12-of-15 from the free throw line over the final 2:55 to preserve their first win over a Top 25 team since beating then-No. 24 LSU on Feb. 18, 2004. They missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer in a 65-63 loss at No. 16 LSU on Saturday.
“Our team finally found a way to get over the hump,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. “We were hoping this day would come sooner or later, and it finally got here.”
Prowell was 3-of-4 on 3-pointers in the second half and had eight rebounds. Rasheem Barrett had 11 points and eight rebounds for the Tigers, who had been 0-for-6 against ranked teams this season.
Lofton led the Vols with 22 points, including 6-of-12 on 3-pointers. Ramar Smith had 19 points and JaJuan Smith added 16.
Tennessee built its biggest lead midway through the second half, then went into a tailspin with 10 consecutive missed shots.
“We were having a hard time scoring at that point,” Lebo said. “Then all of a sudden we kind of got going offensively and we got a lot of stops defensively.”
Lofton said the Vols didn’t get overly comfortable with the lead.
“In the SEC, a lead is never safe,” he said. “We were down by 15 points against Texas and we came back to win it.”
Auburn capped the 18-point run with Josh Dollard’s two free throws making it 72-68 with 2:55 left, then twice pushed the lead as high as six points.
The Tigers went 20-of-28 from the free throw line after coming into the game ranked last in the league in that category. Tennessee went just 7-of-15 from the line and only attempted three free throws in the second half.
Tennessee’s Wayne Chism said the team can’t make too much of the recent losses.
“The season is not getting away from us,” he said. “A loss like this could happen to any team.”