AUBURN, Ala. (WTVF) — Tennessee’s SEC repeat hopes likely disappeared Saturday afternoon with another controversial road loss as Auburn erased an 11-point first half deficit to win 84-80 on Senior Day.
The Tennessee loss all but hands LSU the SEC title as long as the shorthanded Tigers can avoid falling flat on their face against a Vanderbilt team that’s winless in the SEC this season.
The league will have to awkwardly hand out the league trophy to a LSU team that may ultimately end up having to vacate the title after head coach Will Wade and Javonte Smart have been suspended after a FBI recording reportedly has Wade discussing a “strong — offer” made to the star guard during his recruitment.
Tennessee fans will argue their team was robbed of its share of the title after Auburn got the benefit of what appears to be a missed offensive goaltend.
After Jared Harper’s three gave the Tigers a 72-69 lead with 3:30 to go, Harper attempted another triple on Auburn’s next possession. The shot bounded off the rim and backboard and appeared to be tipped within the cylinder by Anfernee McLemore.
Officials ruled that McLemore did not touch it and credited Harper with a three that gave Auburn a six-point lead with 2:45 to go. At best, they missed the tip which would’ve only made it a five-point game. At worst, it was a goaltend and it should’ve remained a one possession game.
It was a huge swing in how the finally couple minutes of the game were played, and it is completely inexcusable for SEC officials to miss it and not go back and look at it.
It’s the second controversial loss for the Vols after they lost at LSU on two free throws by Smart with less than a second left in overtime of a tie game two weeks ago. Those two results are the difference between a potential outright title and nothing for this Tennessee team.
But what has to be more concerning for Tennessee is that this is a third loss in its final seven games of the year after they had won 19 in a row while reaching no. 1 in the country. And while this wasn’t the beatdown the Vols suffered at Kentucky or the second half collapse at LSU, there were too many mistakes down the stretch against an Auburn team playing for its own NCAA seeding.
The Vols coughed up an 11-point first half lead while allowing the Tigers to shoot 46 percent and knockdown 13 three-pointers. They also turned the ball over 13 times, including some untimely ones during crunch time.
Beyond the SEC title, Tennessee likely surrendered its hold on a no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with the loss as well. The Vols will now be playing for that as well as their first conference tournament title since 1979 next week in Nashville.
Tennessee is more than capable of capturing both, but that won’t change what happens on The Plains Saturday.
The refs blew it, but the Vols share plenty of blame in missing their chance to make school history with back-to-back league titles.
And that’s a shame.