By Charles Goldberg
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Auburn found itself within striking range again, but, again, the Tigers couldn't find a way to win.
The team that lost by two to Ole Miss and by three against Missouri hung around most of the second half before losing to Tennessee 78-67 Wednesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena. Auburn was within five points with 2:34 remaining, but Tennessee's huge rebounding and free throw edge finally wore Auburn down.
It was a familiar story for the Tigers, who played hard enough, but has been outscored 54-23 at the free throw line and outrebounded 86-56 in the last two games. This night, Tennessee had 42 rebounds. Auburn had 28. Tennessee made 23 free throws. Auburn made nine.
"We couldn't come up with key stops. They got to the foul line and made foul shots, but we couldn't get the stops when we needed to," said Auburn coach Tony Barbee.
Tennessee improved to 11-5 overall and 2-1 in the league. Auburn is now 8-6 overall and 0-3 in the SEC -- and isn't going to catch a break from the schedule-maker, either. No. 7 Florida visits Auburn Arena on Saturday before the Tigers play at Mississippi State and Arkansas next week.
"I'm proud of the way my team fought," Barbee said. "Playing Tennessee is a tough team in a tough environment. Give them the credit: They made the plays, the free throws and their big guys made the difference in the game with their presence of getting offensive rebounds and getting to the foul line."
Auburn found itself in an 11-4 hole earlier, but trailed 33-28 at the half and cut it to 33-31 12 seconds into the second half. But Tennessee never let Auburn catch up, outrebounding the Tigers along the way.
"This is the SEC, we can't start off like that," said guard Chris Denson. "We've got to boost our intensity, and let them match ours instead of the opposite way."
Barbee has said all season his guards needed help in scoring, but Denson led Auburn with 24 points and fellow guards KT Harrell and Tahj Shamsid-Deen added 15 and 10 respectively. No other Tiger has hit double digits in SEC games. Either Harrell or Denson have led Auburn in every game.
"Me, K.T. and Tahj are our primary scorers, but we've got a whole bunch of people that can score," Denson said. "They just have to be aggressive. I think they get too caught up in watching us play."
Tennessee used its height advantage for everything else. Asauhn Dixon-Tatum led Auburn with eight rebounds.
"It's not so much scoring, but rebounding presence," Barbee said. "I thought Asauhn did a good job of rebounding the basketball, given the size they had in the pain. But we needed more rebounding the ball out of that; we needed more rebounding the ball out of Allen Payne. I talked about it... if the guards in this game ended up with two rebounds, three rebounds, no rebounds, two rebounds, we were losing. When you look at the stat sheet, that's what happened. Our leading guard as a rebounder had three."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine