Barber on the spot
Tay Waller won a wild scramble for the ball, then spotted Korvotney Barber open under the basket.
The result was Barber’s layup with 4.3 seconds left to give Auburn a 78-77 win over Tennessee on Saturday in the Volunteers’ second straight game decided on a basket in the final seconds.
Waller managed to save a long inbounds pass, dribbled across midcourt and heaved the ball to Barber inside for the Tigers (14-9, 3-5 Southeastern Conference).
“I just got open backside and Tay made a good pass,” Barber said. “I was able to finish on a bucket. I just saw the open little space. I have no idea how I was that open.”
Rasheem Barrett had grabbed the offensive rebound after Lucas Hargrove missed two free throws with 16 seconds left, then the Volunteers (14-8, 5-3) knocked the ball out of bounds.
Barrett tipped the next inbounds pass from the opposite end of the court away from Wayne Chism and over to Waller in a scramble for the ball.
“They threw a long crosscourt pass and I thought Wayne had it,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said.
That helps explain how Barber got so open. “Wayne’s on the floor,” Pearl said. “That’s his man.”
Auburn coach Jeff Lebo was pleased that Waller had the presence of mind to find the open man.
“Tay Waller was really under control,” Lebo said. “I was worried he was going to take a quick one there and jack it up, but he did a great job of finding Vot.
“The hardest thing is to get the ball inbounds. That’s the one thing that they do better than anybody else in the country. We kind of freelanced to spread out and get the ball in.”
Tyler Smith had given the Vols the lead with a reverse layup with 39 seconds to play. Before that, Auburn had gone up 76-75 on Waller’s 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Barrett led Auburn with 27 points — two shy of the career-high set last weekend against Vanderbilt — while Barber had 21. Barber made all eight field goal attempts and had a game-high eight rebounds.
“He was unbelievable in there,” Lebo said. “It was really the first time in a long time where I’ve seen him demand the ball and he used his quickness inside. He got angles and posted up and we got the ball to him in the right spot.”
DeWayne Reed had 11 points and Hargrove 10 for the Tigers.
Smith scored 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting for Tennessee. J.P Prince had 18 points and seven assists while Scotty Hopson made 4-of-5 3-pointers and scored 14 points for the Vols. Chism added 11 points.
The Vols had beaten Arkansas Wednesday night on a jumper by Bobby Maze with 5.4 seconds left. This time Prince’s off-balance attempt at the end bounced off the rim.
“This is our most disappointing loss,” Pearl said. “Every other loss we have is to a guaranteed NCAA tournament team. Auburn right now isn’t a guaranteed NCAA tournament team.
“We were really in good position to win the game. We don’t lose many when we have a lead. That’s another reason why it’s disappointing.”
Auburn had lost its last 13 games against SEC East teams. The Tigers have won 13 of the past 16 meetings at home against the Vols.
The bigger Vols were outrebounded 34-21 and had just four offensive boards after leading the league in that category coming into the game. The Tigers scored 19 points off 14 offensive rebounds.
“Our problem was rebounding and you can’t say anything more about it,” Chism said. “If the ball comes off long, then you have to go get it and that’s the way it is. You have to defend your basket.”
Tennessee had seven 3s in the first half but still trailed by as many as nine points. The Vols were just 2-of-11 after that.
Auburn senior point guard Quantez Robertson failed to start for the first time in his career after showing up late for the game. He was on the verge of becoming the first Auburn player to start every game over a four-year career.
He managed only one point and didn’t have an assist.
“I don’t care about starting, I just care about winning,” Robertson said.