Bruce Pearl was the hot topic in Knoxville on Saturday
By Charles Goldberg
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Bruce Pearl talked about raising money for his favorite charities, bragged about the toughness of Tahj Shamsid-Deen, hugged his son who is on his basketball staff and thanked Tennessee fans for the warm reception they gave him in Thompson-Boiling Arena.
Pearl showed his many sides Saturday, including the one as Auburn's new basketball coach after a 71-63 loss to Tennessee, where he coached for six successful seasons and where he hoped his team would pull the upset in his homecoming in front of Volunteer fans.
"I'm just disappointed we weren't able to finish the job," Pearl said. "I thought we played well in stretches, but Tennessee made those effort and energy plays."
Pearl was cheered during pregame introductions, and then sent his Tigers on a bid for an upset. Auburn led by eight points past the midway point of the first half and was tied with the Vols in the 50s in the second half.
When it was done, Pearl said he was ready to put Saturday's basketball game/media event behind him.
"I'm flying back to Auburn right now. We'll just prepare for LSU."
Shamsid-Deen, playing with two bad shoulders, tried to win it for Pearl. He scored 14 points and brought Auburn some early energy.
"Phenomenal," Pearl said. "He's got both shoulders separated. He's got a pretty good cut in his hand. You walk away, 'That little guy from Auburn? Man, does he play hard.' I'm very proud of Tahj."
Pearl was let go by Tennessee after an NCAA infractions, but the Volunteer fans welcomed him back, even serenading him with "Bruuuuuce…." as he left the court when the game was over.
"We lived here for nine years, and it was a really special time in Tennessee basketball history, and we were able to add to it," he said. "It was great. It was a nice reception."
Pearl was teary-eyed in a post-game television interview. He was otherwise composed, except for maybe spending time after the game with his son, Steven, and assistant coach Tony Jones, both of whom were with him at Tennessee.
"It was probably emotional because everything our families went through, we went through together," Pearl said.
Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said he was impressed with Pearl's return.
"Their team in regards to toughness and how they are playing," Tyndall said. "Tonight was certainly a 40-minute battle and could have went the other way."
Tyndall said the Tennessee fans should have welcomed back Pearl.
"I think first and foremost our fans love Coach Pearl. I get that," he said. "I'm not insecure about that at all. The people at Morehead State and Hattiesburg feel that way about me and my staff. That is just the way it is when you have success. They should have welcomed Coach Pearl like they did with a great ovation. They should be excited to see him because what he did here was great. It was a great run."
KT Harrell hit four 3-pointers and scoring a team-high 16 points. Auburn was close with six minutes remaining, trailing 62-59. But the Tigers scored just four more points.
Joining Harrell and Shamsid-Deen in double-figures for Auburn were Antoine Mason, with 14 points; and Cinmeon Bowers, with 13. Armani Moore led Tennessee with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
Auburn returns to action Thursday night at LSU before returning to Auburn Arena to play Ole Miss next Saturday.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine