By Charles Goldberg
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Bryce Brown provided the points and the highlights for Auburn on Tuesday night in a game his coach said proved the shooting guard belongs in the SEC.
But even Brown's four 3-pointers, and his team-high 18 points, could slow Tennessee. The Volunteers beat Auburn 71-45 in Thompson-Boiling Arena as the short-handed Tigers lost yet another player when Tyler Harris left early in the second half with back pain.
Auburn finished the game without Harris, its second-leading scorer; leading scorer Kareem Canty, who was suspended last weekend; two starting injured guards in Tahj Shamsid-Deen and T.J. Dunans; and guard Danjel Purifoy, who has yet to play because of an eligibility issue.
"We're missing a few pieces of the team, but that's no excuse," Brown said. "We've got to do a better job from the start. It takes us a minute to get going."
Auburn struggled at the start of both halves and saw a 34-23 halftime deficit turn decidedly worse in the second half.
"We're better than that," Pearl said. "Our roster has been decimated with injuries, ineligibilities, suspensions. It's really tough. You could see how challenged we are."
Brown played a game-high 32 minutes and hit all four of his 3-point attempts. But Auburn shot just 23.7 percent from the field.
But Brown, mimicking the long-range Canty, had his 3-point shot working.
"I think you continue to see Bryce's ability," Pearl said. "He can make plays. He shot the ball well.
Bryce Brown clearly belonged out there on the floor, and played like he belonged out there on the floor, acted like he belonged out there on the floor. Not everybody else did at times. That's tough."
Brown said his "guards hit me in the right spots and I got open shots. It was a rough game, but I was still able to knock down some shots."
Harris, who didn't practice Monday because of back spasms, left after going 0-for10 from the floor and scoring two points. Pearl said Harris was suffering cramps in his back Monday and was "probably questionable" for the game. Harris grabbed his back after he was called for an offensive foul Tuesday and "I had to shut him down," Pearl said.
Tennessee avenged its 83-77 loss to Auburn to start the Southeastern Conference schedule on Jan. 2. The Vols also denied Pearl a win on his former home court, where he served as Tennessee's head coach for six seasons.
"I still have great friends and family here," Pearl said.
Pearl reached the Sweet 16 in his six seasons as Tennessee's coach. Alas, Tuesday's game was another stop in a season in which Pearl and the Tigers have played shorthanded. Center Horace Spencer didn't finish Tuesday's game, either, fouling out with 8:32 left.
Auburn fell to 9-14 overall and 3-8 in the SEC. Tennessee improved to 12-12 overall and 5-6 in the league.
Auburn started slowly. The Tigers missed their first eight shots, and didn't score their first points until Cinmeon Bowers scored six minutes into the game. It took another two minutes to score a second field goal, but then, suddenly, the Tigers had cut Tennessee's lead to 9-8 with 11 minutes left in the first half.
But the Vols slowly pulled away, taking a 34-23 halftime lead.
Auburn will try to snap its six-game losing streak when it plays Vanderbilt at 5 p.m. Saturday in Auburn Arena on ESPN2.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine