Tyler Harris finishes up his Auburn career at SEC Tournament
By Charles Goldberg
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Auburn coach Bruce Pearl can now officially look to his incoming recruiting class and a couple of potential impact players already in school — now that the Tigers' year of injuries is over.
Tennessee denied Auburn a repeat of last season's run in the Southeastern Conference Tournament by beating the Tigers 97-59 in the first round of this year's event Wednesday night in Bridgestone Arena, a loss that ended the Tigers' season with an 11-20 record.
"I'm disappointed in our play, but I'm not at all discouraged by the direction of our program. I feel very good where we're going," Pearl said
Auburn won three games in the SEC Tournament last season in Bridgestone. This year, the Tigers beat Tennessee in their SEC opener, then beat perennial SEC power Kentucky and then Alabama in back-to-back games. "We had some really good moments," Pearl said.
But the revolving-door lineup caused by injuries and the departure of leading-scorer Kareem Canty midway through led to inconsistencies.
"For many of stages during the season we had seven guys on scholarship. So the injuries were significant," Pearl said. "We played the last half of the SEC without a point guard. And we played five or six games without a point guard and Cinmeon Bowers had to play point guard, so it's been a very difficult year. But a lot of that has to do how good the league is. It's just not a good league not to be very good or very deep. That was a real challenge for us."
Auburn will look to next year with a host of 3-point shooters returning; the return of the emerging big man Horace Spencer; the first game look of practice-star Danjel Purifoy; and the potential return of 7-foot-2 center Trayvon Reed. The Tigers' recruiting class includes 6-5 guard Mustapha Herron, the first five-star signee in Auburn history.
Wednesday was the last Auburn game for seniors Cinmeon Bowers, Tyler Harris and Jordon Granger.
Shooter T.J. Dunans, who missed 15 games in the middle of the season with a knee injury and returned as a point guard, led the Tigers with 17 points. Harris had 14. Detrick Mostella led Tennessee with 17 points. The Vols advanced to a Thursday tournament game against Vanderbilt.
Auburn dug itself an early hole, falling behind 7-0 and then trailing by 22 with four minutes left in the first half. The Volunteers led 44-25 at halftime, and though Auburn had seven players score, no one had more than five points. Even the Tigers' patented 3-point shots weren't falling. Auburn hit only 4-of-24. Tennessee hit 11-of-25.
"Difficult game, very difficult season," Pearl said.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: