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A spirit that is not afraid

Auburn attempts to end season on high note against Tennessee

<p>Auburn Men's Basketball Player Johni Broome (4) intercepts the ball from Ole Miss in Neville Arena on Feb. 22, 2023.</p>

Auburn Men's Basketball Player Johni Broome (4) intercepts the ball from Ole Miss in Neville Arena on Feb. 22, 2023.

Auburn looks to secure its place in the NCAA Tournament and exact revenge as it hosts No. 12 Tennessee in Neville Arena Saturday.

“This is a game that we must need, a game that we need all our fans in the arena,” said senior Zep Jasper. “This is a game that could lock us in the March Madness NCAA Tournament.”

The Tigers and Vols recently faced off earlier this season, with Tennessee squeezing out a tight 46-43 victory. Both teams shooting the ball in that game, averaging a 25.3 field-goal percentage and 10.3 three-point percentage combined. 

Auburn (19-11, 9-8 SEC) is on a two-game skid, including a 77-69 heartbreaking overtime defeat against Alabama. The Tigers led by 17 with just over 10 minutes to go in the ballgame but were unable to hold on to the lead.

The story at the end of the game was foul trouble for Auburn. Johni Broome fouled out with seven minutes to go in regulation, and Allen Flanigan and Jaylin Williams fouled out early into the overtime period. To make matters worse for the Tigers, center Dylan Cardwell left the game with an apparent ankle injury late in overtime.

“(Dyan) won't practice today, so therefore I think he's doubtful for tomorrow,” said head coach Bruce Pearl.

Tennessee (22-8, 11-6 SEC) is winners in its last two games, defeating No. 24 Texas A&M 68-63 and South Carolina 85-45. The Vols are averaging 71.9 points per game, ranking seventh in the SEC and 176th nationally. Despite being in the middle of the pack in points, Tennessee is exceptional at passing the ball and grabbing boards, averaging 17.1 assists per game and 13.4 offensive rebounds per game — good for first and second in the SEC.

“They're a great offensive rebounding team,” Pearl said. “They're bigger than us at every position, so we're going to have to compete on the boards.”

Senior guard Santiago Vescovi leads the Vols in scoring, averaging 12.4 points per game – good for 20th in the SEC. Tennessee doesn’t rely on one player but instead spreads the ball around, with four players on its team averaging over 10 points per game. However, the Vols were dealt a big blow Wednesday when its primary facilitator and SEC leader in assists, Zakai Zeigler, was diagnosed with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Tennessee boast one of the best defenses in the country, holding opponents to 56.7 points per game — the best in the SEC and third nationally. The Vols are also the No. 1 ranked team nationally in defensive rating. Contributing to Tennessee’s stout defense is its ability to get steals and rebounds. The Vols are averaging 8.7 steals per game and 25.7 defensive rebounds per game, good for third in the SEC in both categories.

“They're the best defensive team in the country,” Pearl said. “They're the most physical team in the country. They've got the No. 1 field-goal percentage defense.”

Auburn tips off in Neville Arena for the last time this season against Tennessee Saturday at 1 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

Donavan Weaver | Sports Writer

Donavan Weaver is a senior at Auburn, majoring in journalism. He is from Brewton, Ala. and started with The Plainsman in fall 2022.

Twitter: @donavanweaver21

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