An erratic regular season ended painfully, but don’t dare suggest it ended inappropriately.
Melvin Goins and UT's five other seniors walked off the floor in disappointment. Again.
Tennessee lost a close game.
In Thompson-Boling Arena.
Longtime rival Kentucky — which entered Sunday’s game with one win in seven SEC road games — soured Senior Day with a 64-58 win.
The Volunteers (18-13, 8-8 SEC) finished league play 5-3 on the road and 3-5 at home.
“It’s another disappointing weekend,” UT coach Bruce Pearl said.
The Vols, who haven’t been the luckiest of teams this season, got every big break they needed leading up to Sunday’s game. Georgia lost at Alabama on Saturday afternoon, and Vanderbilt lost at home to Florida that night, leaving UT with a chance to salvage the SEC season with a No. 2 Eastern Division in next week’s conference tournament.
All the Vols had to do was beat a team that had only one SEC road win all season — and that was at South Carolina, so does that really count? — and trailed by 10 points in the first half in Thompson-Boling.
DeAndre Liggins and Kentucky again locked down Tennessee star Scotty Hopson on Sunday.
So yes, Sunday was disappointing. Unbelievably disappointing.
But it shouldn’t be surprising. Not at this point.
This is the Vols. This is who they are. Though it defies any sort of reasonable logic, they’re simply not good at home.
We could ask ourselves why, but what’s the point? They’re done in this building for this season, and that should please everyone who wears Pantone 151.
“It is what it is with the numbers, but there’s no reason why we should lose all these home games when you have a home crowd like that out there,” said freshman forward Tobias Harris,” who led UT with 18 points and six rebounds.
“Pretty much every night we’ve been here at home, it’s been like that,” Harris added. “It’s just tough to send all those fans home like that.”
But was anything else going to happen?
Sure, young Kentucky’s SEC record entering Sunday was 3-7. But Southern California was 4-8 on the road except for its win in Knoxville. Mississippi State was 3-5 on the road except for its win in Knoxville. Alabama was 3-6 on the road except for its win in Knoxville.
Cameron Tatum's first half slam highlighted a solid Sunday first half for the Vols, but they crumbled in the second half against Kentucky.
Tossing out veteran-laden Florida, the Vols’ other home losses came against teams whose road record outside Knoxville was 31-44.
Sure, UT played Sunday without senior center and leading rebounder Brian Williams.
But Kentucky gives all but a handful of its minutes to six players, so let’s not go there.
Pearl certainly didn’t go there.
“I wouldn’t even begin to make excuses,” Pearl said. “We’ve got enough guys who can rebound the basketball with two hands or get on floor for a loose ball. We’ve lost games on the offensive end. We had a chance to win the game on defensive end. We didn’t do it.”
The players didn’t make excuses, either.
“I can’t really explain it. It’s just something we’ve just got to do,” said sophomore forward Kenny Hall, who played more minutes with Williams out of the lineup and finished with six points and six rebounds.
“Each individual on our team — everybody from the coaching staff to the bench — we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and just ask ourselves, ‘What have we done? And what can we do to get better?’” Hall added.
A team that can play the way UT has played on the road has no business finishing 10-8 it its own building — a building which, by the way, is still loud and hostile and will finish in the top five nationally in attendance for a sixth consecutive season.
But, again, who cares at this point?
The good news for the Vols is that Sunday was most likely this season’s final home game. It’s still possible they could miss the NCAA tournament, but it’s tough to think a team with nine top-55 RPI wins will be left out of a largely unimpressive field that must contain 37 at-large teams.
The bad news — and it’s really bad news — is that UT’s next game will be in the Georgia Dome, where the Vols for years have struggled to win in any sport.
But this team will probably play better in the Georgia Dome than it has in Thompson-Boling.
Why not? It’s played better just about everywhere else.
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247
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