AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — The Auburn Tigers had an ugly performance for 25 minutes and an unfortunate incident involving a fan.
The final result was prettier for the 13th-ranked Tigers, who rallied from a 17-point deficit in the second half to beat Tennessee 73-66 on Saturday behind Samir Doughty’s 22 points.
“We’ll celebrate this one,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Having lost two in a row, I kind of felt like our backs were against the wall.”
The comeback wasn’t the only hot topic after the game.
A student was ejected from the game after directing a derogatory comment toward Tennessee’s Santiago Vescovi and will face a disciplinary hearing, an Auburn official said. The fan was heard on TV calling out, “Go back to Uruguay! This is America!”
Pearl said he appreciated the way Auburn administrators handled it and stressed that “one person doesn’t speak at all for the Auburn family.”
“That’s not who we are at all,” Pearl said. “This is an amazing campus with incredible students. We are diverse and we are welcoming. I’ve got nothing but respect for Santiago and his game.”
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes didn’t know about the incident when asked about it at his postgame news conference, with a media relations official cutting off a reporter’s question. Barnes addressed it after being told of the situation in the team’s locker room.
“From what I’ve heard, once they found out about it, they took care of it,” Barnes said. “I’m glad they did. I haven’t given any thought to it but our administration told me that Auburn did what needed to be done. And that’s good by me.”
Auburn stopped a two-game skid. Led by Doughty’s hot streak, the Tigers (23-4, 10-4 Southeastern Conference) scored 18 consecutive points to spark the comeback against the Volunteers (15-12, 7-7).
Jordan Bowden scored a career-high 28 points and six assists and made 3 of 4 3-pointers for the Vols. Vescovi, who was not made available to reporters, had 10 points.
The Vols rode a 13-2 run capped by Bowden’s jumper to a 54-37 lead with 14:31 left. Then Auburn scored the next 18 points, including 10 by Doughty, to go ahead 55-54.
Devan Cambridge’s 3-pointer with 1:38 left gave Auburn a 67-64 lead. The teams traded baskets after that before the Tigers forced a turnover.
McCormick and Doughty each hit two free throws in the final 23 seconds and Auburn scored the game’s final six points.
Doughty scored 14 points in the second half and no other Auburn player reached double digits for the game. It was the Tigers’ third straight game without star freshman Isaac Okoro (pulled right hamstring), and they lost the first two by double digits on the road.
Bowden had 17 points in the first half and was perfect from the field and free-throw line before halftime. He had been 7 of 35 from 3-point range (20%) over the last seven games.
It was a rematch of the SEC Tournament championship game, which Auburn won last season 84-64 on its way to the Final Four.
This time Pearl had a fiery halftime message to his players, though Doughty declined to share the particulars.
“I can’t share anything he said,” the guard said. “He got on us, and we reacted but I can’t really share what he said. But it got us motivated.
“He kicked everybody out of the locker room but the players. When it gets like that, we know how serious he is.”
Tennessee flirted with its third win over a ranked opponent this season. The Vols committed 24 turnovers, including six during Auburn’s big run, a recurring issue lately.
“It’s like the same old record playing,” Barnes said. “Some of them were just … ridiculous turnovers where you watch your team and it’s like, ‘What are they not seeing out there?’”
Auburn pushed its home winning streak to 18 games after falling 85-73 at Missouri and 65-55 at Georgia. The Tigers have won four straight against Tennessee for only the second time (1997-99). They had 18 steals.
Tennessee visits Arkansas on Wednesday night.
Auburn hosts Mississippi on Tuesday night.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25