AUBURN — Auburn has faced must-win after must-win in the last month, and it has been more disappointment than excitement for the Tigers. Losers of eight of their last 11, the Tigers needed a win to not only go into the SEC Tournament with momentum but also send the seniors out on top. Auburn (20-11, 10-8 SEC) did both, earning a crucial Quad 1 win and taking down No. 12 Tennessee (22-8, 11-7 SEC) 79-70. 

Auburn needed this win, and so did Wendell Green, Jr. 

“Every game is win or go home,” Green said. “Nobody’s really worried about their stats. We’re sharing the ball and taking open shots. I think we’ve been taking better care of the ball for the last few games. If we keep doing that and make some shots, we’re in great standing.”

Green’s last-second three at the end of the first half cut into Tennessee's seven-point lead, but that was only the beginning for the junior point guard. Staying on the court for 19 of the 20 second-half minutes, Green put on a show and led both teams with 15 points, one 5-for-10 shooting, as well two assists and one steal. Green also went 5-of-5 from the free throw line and had seven points in the final two minutes. For Green, 13 of his 15 second-half points came in the final 10 minutes. 

Green ran a highly efficient attack against the No. 1 defense in the nation, and the Tigers had just two turnovers in the second half and six overall. Auburn also earned 18 assists throughout the contest.

“This team has been one of the best at taking care of the ball that I’ve had. I’ve had some pretty good teams,” said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl.

Partly due to Green’s second-half eruption, Auburn scored 49 points in the final 20 minutes, more than the Tigers were able to muster in the whole game at Knoxville earlier this season. 

Green was not running the offense alone, with seniors Jaylin Williams and Allen Flanigan joining him. Flanigan went 2-of-5 from the field in the first half but was a force to be reckoned with in the second, scoring 11 points, including the final four Auburn points, all of which came at the foul line. The senior’s big-time dunk with only seconds remaining was waved off, but it did send the arena into one more frenzy. 

Jaylin Williams also capped off his fourth season at Neville Arena with a solid performance, scoring 13 points along with seven assists and seven rebounds. 

“Tennessee is a really good, physical team. One of the top teams in the SEC,” Williams said. “It was a good win for us.”

Auburn matched the physicality of Tennessee, primarily in the second half. The Vols started hot from all over the floor, shooting 50% from the floor and going 5-for-8 from beyond the arc. The Vols also won the first-half battle on the glass 19-14. Auburn’s defense found an answer in the second half, holding the Vols to just 3-of-9 shooting from three and 44% from the field. Auburn still lost the battle on the glass but made up for it with a 15-0 advantage in fast break points and a 34-28 advantage on points in the paint.

This win gives Auburn its fifth 20-win season in the last six years, with the only outlier being the 2020-2021 COVID year. 

“Twenty wins matters,” said Pearl. “We care about making history. This team made history.”

Pearl’s five 20-win seasons are the most for any coach in program history. This is only the 14th 20-win season in program history, with 117 total seasons dating back to 1905.

Now, Auburn will have to wait for its spot in the SEC Tournament to be decided. The Tigers could jump to the No. 6 spot with a loss by Missouri. The SEC Tournament will begin on Wednesday, March 8, before concluding on March 12.

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