By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Senior Night began with a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it didn't take long for Auburn to find things chilly on the court Wednesday night.
Tennessee jumped to a huge first-half lead and coasted to an 82-54 victory in Auburn Arena, the final home game for Allen Payne, Chris Denson and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum. It wasn't their night.
It was Tennessee's.
Auburn, for the second straight game, came out cold and got colder. Examples A through E: Tennessee led 10-0, 22-4, 27-6, 34-12 and had a 44-20 halftime advantage. Auburn's 54 points were a season low.
"We dug ourselves into too big a hole. But I'm proud of the way the guys kept fighting," said Auburn coach Tony Barbee.
Auburn fell to 13-15 overall and 5-12 in the SEC with a regular-season finale at Texas A&M on the horizon Saturday. Tennessee improved to 19-11 overall and 10-7 in the league. Both teams will play in the SEC Tournament in Atlanta with the Tigers as either the 11th or 12th seed. That means they'll play a first-round game next Wednesday.
The first half against Tennessee was all too familiar to the first half of last Saturday's 73-57 loss to Alabama. Auburn had 10 points after 12 minutes against the Tide. Auburn had 9 points after 14 minutes against Tennessee.
"I thought we fought in the first half, we just couldn't get any shots to go down," Barbee said.
"I am just disappointed for our seniors that couldn't go out on a winning note."
Freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen led Auburn for the second time this season, scoring 17 as he did at Florida. He found his 3-point range by hitting five of them. But the Tigers added only one more.
Chris Denson, who went into the Alabama as the SEC's leading scorer, struggled again, scoring just three points after scoring only six at Alabama.
"I think he is pressing," Barbee said. "I think he is thinking about leading the SEC in scoring deal and it is hard to play under that pressure."
KT Harrell added 14 for Auburn and Dixon-Tatum added 12. Denson's scoring contribution or no, Tennessee scored at a dizzying pace in the first half. All five Tennessee starters hit double-figures by game's end with Jarnell Stokes' 20 leading the way.
"You really can't explain it," Shamsid-Deen said. "We came out flat and dead. They had more life than us and it gave them the big lead."
Auburn was more competitive in the first meeting, in Knoxville. The Vols won that one 78-67, but Auburn was within 5 with 2:34 left despite being heavily outrebounded. Tennessee did it again, outrebounding the Tigers 43-25.
Shamsid-Deen said Auburn will try to bounce back at Texas A&M.
"We have to look forward to Saturday's game...and the SEC Tournament," he said.