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No. 2 Tennessee outlasts No. 25 Auburn in defensive tussle

A matchup of two of the Southeastern Conference’s top defensive teams delivered exactly what was expected as No. 2 Tennessee hung on for a 46-43 victory over No. 25 Auburn on Saturday afternoon at Knoxville, Tenn.

Zakai Ziegler hit a pair of free throws with 16.3 seconds left to provide the winning margin for the Volunteers before Wendell Green Jr.’s potentially game-tying 3-point try for the Tigers bounced off the rim at the final horn.

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The Vols (19-4, 8-2 SEC) entered the game No. 2 in the country in scoring defense and the national leader in field goal and 3-point defense. They went out and held the Tigers to 29 points under their season scoring average and to season lows of 23.6 percent from the field and 11.1 percent (3 of 27) on 3-pointers.

The Tigers (17-6, 7-3) entered the day in the top 5 in the conference in three defensive categories (scoring, shooting and 3-point defense) and held the Vols to eight points under their previous season low, set in a 67-54 loss at Florida on Wednesday.

The Vols shot only 27 percent overall and a season-low 9.5 percent (2 of 21) on 3-point attempts.

Josiah-Jordan James scored 15 points for Tennessee, while Auburn’s Johni Broome scored 11 and K.D. Johnson had 10.

The win kept the Vols in second place in the SEC.

Up 23-19 at halftime, the Vols never trailed for the entire second half but were only up 40-38 when Santiago Vescovi sank his first 3-pointer of the game after five misses from deep to put Tennessee up by five points with 2:33 remaining.

But the Tigers weren’t done, with Green’s 3-pointer making it 44-41 with 32 seconds left before Broome forced a Tennessee turnover. The Tigers got it to 44-43 on Broome’s tip-in with 18 seconds left before Ziegler went to the free-throw line and made his decisive two shots.

Both teams struggled offensively in the opening 20 minutes. Auburn matched its season low in first-half scoring and Tennessee nearly did the same. Both teams were under 30-percent shooting from the field in the first half.

–Field Level Media

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