Let’s take a quick look at Five Things from Tennessee’s 68-65, overtime loss at Texas A&M on Saturday in Reed Arena.
Texas A&M's Antwan Space shoots the game-winning 3-pointer over Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes on Saturday in Reed Arena. The Aggies beat the Vols, 68-65. (Texas A&M photo)
The Vols (16-11, 7-7 SEC) missed a chance to beat the Aggies (16-11, 7-7) in the final seconds of regulation but still closed impressively to force overtime.
But Antwan Space — a low-percentage 3-point shooter — then hit a 3 in the final 5 seconds to beat the Vols for a second time this season. He did the same thing to Tennessee in Thompson-Boling Arena on Jan. 11.
IT FACTOR VS. (ISH) FACTOR
Forgive the frank language here, but sometimes there aren’t better ways to put things.
Some teams have an it factor in close games. Some have a (ish) factor.
Tennessee is clearly in the latter category.
After rallying from an eight-point deficit in the final two minutes, the Vols cost themselves chance after chance after chance to win this game. Everyone deserves blame for that. Bad decisions from coaches, bad execution from players and bad luck combined to turn another winnable game into a loss.
Vols coach Cuonzo Martin (UT photo)
And those losses are adding up.
And there isn’t much time left.
On the surface, it really isn’t impossible to defend Vols coach Cuonzo Martin for his decision to call timeout with less than 3 seconds left and his team — which trailed by two points — struggling to get a clean look from inside or outside the arc.
It really isn’t impossible to understand the decision.
But that decision will live in infamy, of course, because Vols senior point guard Antonio Barton made the 3-pointer just a snap of the fingers after Martin was given the timeout.
Some moments, fairly or unfairly, tend to encapsulate an entire season or even an entire era.
Vols' Jarnell Stokes (UT photo)
That timeout, fairly or unfairly, might be that moment for Martin.
For certain, there have been moments where Martin’s in-game tactics could be called into question. But several former Vols — even Steven Pearl, the son of former coach Bruce Pearl — agreed that Martin calling timeout was fundamentally the correct basketball decision.
But, again, few will care about that now.
For many, that will be the final nail in Martin’s Tennessee coffin.
THE FREE THROW
Proving, again, that Martin absolutely can’t catch a break, he saved one of his best in-bounds calls of the season for the moment he most needed it — after the 3-erasing timeout.
Vols junior guard Josh Richardson patiently waited and looked off some defenders before a hole emerged for him to get the ball inside to All-SEC junior forward Jarnell Stokes. Richardson threw a great pass to Stokes, who collected the ball and scored despite getting fouled with less than one second on the clock.
It was a great call, and the execution was flawless.
And all Stokes needed to go to get Tennessee a huge win was make a free throw.
And he missed it.
And the Vols lost.
Three free-throw misses from Stokes and senior forward Jeronne Maymon have cost Tennessee two games against Texas A&M this season. And that isn’t on Martin. Perhaps neither game shouldn’t have come down to those moments — it’s tough to argue with that assessment — but they did. And the Vols didn’t make those free throws. And so they lost both games.
And they might be in the NIT as a direct result of those two games.
Antwan Space isn’t a great player, and Texas A&M isn’t a great team.
But Space, a decidedly mediocre 3-point shooter, has hit two game-winners with less than five seconds left in two games against Tennessee this season.
And Space — who shoots less than 25 percent from long range — has made just nine 3s all season. And four have come against Tennessee.
What are the odds?
This is why we love and hate sports. This is why they stir so many emotions. Anything can happen.
NOT JUST BAD IN COLLEGE STATION
Tennessee is going to need help down the stretch from games that don’t involve the Vols. That much, at the very least, is painfully obvious.
And the Vols didn’t get that help from Xavier on Saturday. The Musketeers — one of Tennessee’s quality non-conference wins — were blasted by Georgetown on Saturday.
The Virginia win and close losses to soon-to-be No. 1 Florida and soon-to-be No. 2 Wichita State will definitely keep Tennessee in the mix for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid unless the Vols just fall apart down the stretch. But Saturday was a bad day, and it seems like Tennessee can’t have any more bad days this regular season. Even winning out might not be enough, but it really might. That’s not a stretch. Look at the bubble. It’s possible.
Of course, the way Tennessee continues to avoid showing any sign of consistency — either in a good or bad way — makes it tougher and tougher to believe that this team is capable of going 4-0 the next two weeks.
But ... sports. This is why we love and hate them. Anything can happen. If you don’t believe that, ask Antwan Space.
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247
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