AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Tennessee withstood its first Southeastern Conference gut-check of the season.
Meme Jackson scored 27 points and Rennia Davis had 23 points and 14 rebounds in the 10th-ranked Lady Vols’ 78-69 victory over Auburn on Thursday night in the SEC opener for both teams.
The Lady Vols (12-1) took an eight-point lead into the fourth quarter, watched it slip away and then gained control again. The Tigers (12-2) came in riding a nine-game winning streak and flirted with the upset into the final minutes.
“We knew how this game was going to be,” Davis said. “I think every SEC game is going to be like this. No team is going to go away, because every team wants to win. This league is tough and it’s hard to come by wins. Every team is going to give us their best, and we knew that.”
Jackson shot 5 of 8 on 3-pointers and made all six foul shots for Tennessee after scoring just 10 points against Belmont. Davis went 8 of 11 for the Lady Vols, who hit a season-high 54 percent from the field.
Tennessee led 58-50 going into the fourth but Auburn’s Erin Howard opened with two straight 3s. The Tigers took a 62-61 lead on Crystal Primm’s layup with 5:41 remaining.
The Lady Vols reclaimed control with Cheridene Green hitting back-to-back layups to punctuate a 10-2 spurt.
Zaay Green also scored 10 for Tennessee, which outrebounded Auburn 43-29.
“I told them in the huddle we’re going to win this game on defense and rebounding,” Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick said. “And that’s what you do. You’ve got to get stops and you can’t give them second-chance points.”
All five Auburn starters scored in double digits but the bench didn’t provide a single point.
Unique Thompson led the Tigers with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Primm scored 16, Daisa Alexander 13, Erin Howard 11 and Janiah McKay 10.
“I thought we made some good runs to stay in the game,” coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “Actually, if we had made a few more shots, we definitely could have won the game. We forced them into 23 turnovers but we didn’t score off those turnovers like we had been doing in our past games.”
Jackson helped the Lady Vols move ahead in the third with seven straight points after the game was tied at halftime. She hit two fast-break layups and a 3-pointer as Tennessee opened its widest margin to that point after three quarters.
It was Auburn’s first game without guard Emari Jones, who sustained a season-ending knee injury against Alabama State.
Tennessee: Won its fourth straight since a loss to No. 6 Stanford. Committed 23 turnovers and forced only 11.
Auburn: Couldn’t sustain the win streak in its best start since opening 20-0 during the 2008-09 season en route to an SEC championship. Had won four straight league openers.
WHERE’S THE BENCH?
Auburn’s reserves were 0 of 9 from the field. Tennessee’s bench produced only three points. The only shot attempts by non-starters for the Lady Vols were from freshman Jazmine Massengill, who went 1 for 5.
“That hurts, when you’ve got no scoring from the bench,” Williams-Flournoy said. “And that’s not common.”
Tennessee hosts Missouri on Sunday.
Auburn visits Florida on Sunday.
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