Bryce Brown, left, celebrates Auburn's win over Tennessee
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — With injuries mounting, and Auburn losing one guard after another, Bruce Pearl has needed freshman Bryce Brown to step up as a shooter and defender.
He's done it.
Brown and fellow guard Kareem Canty combined to hit 10 3-pointers and score 40 points to help Auburn beat Tennessee 83-77 in the SEC opener Saturday, giving Pearl his first win against his former team.
Brown turned the game in flash, hitting two 3-pointers and a 2 in the first minute-or-so of the second half to flip both a 36-34 halftime deficit as well as the game.
"I was feeling it at the moment," Brown said.
He had help, of course, from Canty, the most dangerous 3-point shooter around.
"He's definitely got the green light... the greenest of the green," said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes.
Canty and Brown each scored 20 and Tyler Harris had a double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Auburn improved to 7-5. Tennessee fell to 7-6 as the Tigers snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Volunteers.
Pearl said Brown was impressive during the recruiting process and in summer workouts, too. But he needed to show Pearl more once preseason work began.
"I wasn't going to give it to him," Pearl said. "I was going to make him show me."
Brown has, especially lately with back-to-back 20-point games. He's won more playing time as a shooter, as a defender, partly because Auburn began Saturday's game without injured starting guards Tahj Shamsid-Deen and T.J. Dunans. The Tigers then lost guard TJ Lang to concussion symptoms in the first half after a midcourt collision.
Brown played on.
"This is what is exciting about Bryce Brown. He is a great shooter, but he is also a great defender," Pearl said. "To be a young player, and to be able to do those two things, he is going to play a lot of basketball here at Auburn, and is going to put up a lot of numbers."
Auburn's 3-point shooting stole part of the spotlight from Pearl and Tennessee coming together for the second time since his stint with the Vols from 2005-11. Tennessee beat Pearl in Knoxville last year. This time, Pearl felt more at home.
"It was more emotional in Knoxville for sure," Pearl said.
Still, Canty said he was happy that Pearl won.
"It felt good, so he could relax a little bit. He was on our back about every little thing that he usually doesn't get mad about," Canty said.
Pearl spent less time talking about his familiarity with Tennessee, choosing to spend more time praising the Auburn fans for their support of his AUTLIVE t-shirts designed to raise awareness for cancer prevention and detection. Many of the crowd of 8.614 wore the t-shirts Saturday.
Auburn started fast, going on a 12-2 run to take a 22-10 lead with 8:56 left in the first half. But then the Tigers hit a defensive wall for most of the first half.
The Vols cut the lead to 22-21 in just 2½ minutes and took a 33-32 lead with 1:45 left in the half.
Tennessee's 36-34 halftime defied the stat sheet. The Volunteers hit just 1-of-13 3-pointers in the first half, and Auburn outshot the Vols 46 to 34 percent. Still, the Tigers trailed, though not for long.
Auburn hit 12-of-26 3-point attempts. Tennessee was just 2-of-28.
The Tigers return to action against South Carolina in Auburn Arena at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine