AUBURN, Ala. — Tony Barbee hoped last Saturday's win at South Carolina would be a stepping stone for Auburn as it moved forward to the second half of the SEC season.
Instead, he thought his Tigers looked "timid" and "scared" in a 69-56 loss to Tennessee at the Auburn Arena on Thursday night.
"How could you be scared of another college basketball player, regardless of their reputation or ranking?" Barbee said. "Not everyone did, but a majority of our guys played scared. That's unacceptable."
Playing without suspended forward Rob Chubb, the Tigers (8-14, 1-7 SEC) took a step back from their most complete game of the season — a 79-64 win at South Carolina last Saturday — getting overwhelmed in the paint and on the boards to lose by double digits for the fourth time in SEC play.
"Just to come out flat and almost the total opposite of what we did at South Carolina, the word I would use is disappointed," said freshman forward Allen Payne, who led Auburn with 13 points and 7 rebounds.
The Volunteers (15-7, 5-2 SEC), who played without head coach Bruce Pearl (SEC suspension) and leading scorer Scotty Hopson (sprained ankle), got 15 points apiece from Brian Williams and Cameron Tatum and 14 from Tobias Harris.
Tennessee finished with a 38-24 rebounding advantage and scored 36 of their points in the paint against the undersized Tigers, who have only one win at the midway point of the conference season.
"Even though the record is what it is, I thought we were taking steps all season long," Barbee said. "This was clearly a step back. We played timid and we played intimidated."
Auburn played without Chubb, who was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Barbee didn't elaborate on the nature of Chubb's suspension other than to say he was "disappointed" in the center, who will not be allowed participate in any team activities.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore only averages 8.1 points and 4.1 rebounds but was coming off the best game of his career at South Carolina, scoring a career-high 18 points. His absence left a big hole in the paint on both ends of the floor Thursday.
"We were starting to gain a nice rhythm with Rob in the hole. He was starting to be an offensive threat," Barbee said. "We missed his presence and what he does offensively and what he does on the defensive end of the floor in terms of being in position."
The Tigers, who don't have anyone else on the roster taller than 6-foot-9, had an especially tough time with the 6-foot-10, 272-pound Williams, who scored 12 points and grabbed 7 rebounds by halftime as the Volunteers built a 37-24 lead.
"When you are afraid of somebody you get tentative," Barbee said. "And we were tentative and they took it right at us."
Tennessee's lead swelled to as many as 22 in the second half as the announced crowd of 6,274 slowly filed their way out of the arena.
Freshman Josh Langford scored 9 points off the bench for the Tigers. Kenny Gabriel and Earnest Ross had 7 apiece.
The Tigers are back in action Saturday at Georgia starting at 1:47 p.m. ET.