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AUBURN | Tennessee arrived at Auburn Arena Tuesday with two things on its mind.
Playing a physical brand of ball. And rebounding like mad.
The Volunteers followed through on both counts, which caused serial problems for Bruce Pearl's team. These Tigers are quick and fit and bouncy, but they seemed dissuaded by contact. That was Tennessee's hope, of course, and things worked beautifully for the visitors.
The Volunteers won, 87-77.
Jay G. Tate/AuburnSports.com
Tennessee went on a 13-0 run during the first half to create a double-digit lead. Auburn continued with its usual approach on the scoring end — high screens followed by drives into the lane — but Tennessee bodied up against those drivers. That forced Auburn to change course and pay more attention to shielding the ball.
Something didn't click with Auburn. It went into the halftime locker room down 16 points after shooting 29 percent from the floor. Tennessee also grabbed 24 rebounds to Auburn's 14.
Things changed a bit during the second half, largely due to guard Ronnie Johnson's unique affinity for physical play. Due to a stronger physique or personal preference or perhaps both, the graduate transfer stood up to the challenges during his drives to the bucket.
He mitigated the aggression with aplomb. He scored 11 points after halftime.
Auburn, though, never gained a foothold on Tennessee's plans on the scoring end. Forward Admiral Schofield was creative within six feet, hitting a few jumpers and a few runners and a few free throws to flummox the Tigers' interior defenders.
Forward Grant Williams finished with 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting. He did most of his damage with mid-range jump shots.
The Tigers outscored the visitors by six points during the second half, but the halftime deficit loomed large.
Jared Harper led the home team's effort, finishing with 21 points. He landed four of his five shots from long range. Johnson added 12 points.