NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Let’s take a quick look at Five Things from Tennessee’s 64-60 loss at Vanderbilt on Wednesday night in Memorial Gymnasium.
Tennessee senior guard Jordan McRae (UT photo)
The Vols (14-8, 5-4 SEC) fell behind early against the upset-minded Commodores (13-8, 4-5) before erasing a 12-point, second-half deficit.
But the Vols couldn’t complete the comeback, and Vandy came away with a close, albeit somewhat controversial win.
WELCOME BACK, BUBBLE
Tennessee remains an incredibly difficult team to understand.
Sometimes the Vols are very good. Sometimes the Vols are very bad. And they’re rarely in the middle.
Debate the reasons and consequences of that inconsistency as you will. It’s tough to agree or disagree with most of it. It’s very much open for interpretation.
But here’s the bottom line: The Vols seemed headed back off the NCAA Tournament bubble after a dominant week, and now they’re right back on it.
Vols' Josh Richardson (UT photo)
And now another nervous February and March seems unavoidable.
Wednesday wasn’t a backbreaker, but it was another avoidable loss. And the Vols are running out of chances.
FIRST-HALF FLAWS RETURN
The lack of a foul call on Vols junior guard Josh Richardson’s late drive to the bucket could be debated forever. The view from this vantage point was that he was fouled, and obviously Tennessee’s coaches and players felt the same way. But some reasonable minds agreed with the no-call. That happens. That was out of Tennessee’s control.
But the Vols fell behind a less-talented team by 12 points early in the second half. And they could and should have controlled that.
But they didn’t.
That slow start all-but removed their margin for error from that point forward, and that ultimately cost them the game. They calmly, methodically worked their way back into the team like a veteran team should. But then their head-scratching, late-half execution returned, and that was all it took for Vanderbilt to hold on and win a game the Commodores never really controlled.
Vols' Antonio Barton (UT photo)
Vanderbilt gave the Vols several chances Wednesday night, and the Vols, to their credit, earned many more chances on their own.
But ... the Vols lost.
Statistics usually tell the story in basketball, but here’s a real mind trip: Tennessee out-rebounded Vanderbilt by a 41-26 margin, but the Commodores crushed the Vols by a 34-22 margin.
How is that even possible?
Extreme inefficiency. That’s how.
Coaches can lead players to water, but they can’t drink it for them. Shots near the rim are high-percentage shots. You have to make those shots. And when you out-rebound by an opponent by 15, you have no business being out-scored by 12 in the paint.
Vols coach Cuonzo Martin (UT photo)
Despite being No. 1 with a bullet on Tennessee’s scouting report, Vanderbilt senior Rod Odom got a lot of open looks Wednesday night. And he made the Vols pay time and time again.
Odom, a 6-foot-9 player with a streaky but occasionally lethal perimeter shot, is a matchup problem for many teams at this level when he’s hitting those shots. And he got way too many open looks against the Vols, scoring a game-high 26 points on 8-of-12 from the floor, 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range and 6-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line.
Seniors are supposed to shoot well in their own gym, but the Vols surely could have found ways to quiet him sooner than they did. And just when Tennessee seemed to find an answer for him, he got wide — wide, wide, wide — open for a late 3 that proved to be the difference.
Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings is working miracles with a roster that’s been trimmed to just seven healthy, scholarship players, and he keeps finding wrinkles to get open looks for his best player. But you can credit a good coach for doing his job while questioning his latest victim. Those don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
POINT PROBLEMS RETURN
Just when it looked like the Vols had found an answer to their point-guard woes with Darius Thompson, the freshman ... well ... looked like a freshman against Vanderbilt.
Thompson, a former Vandy commit, had five assists, two steals and just one turnover in 18 minutes, so let’s not throw him under the bus. But that one turnover was a bad, bad turnover late in the game, and Thompson got exposed several times on the defensive end with his inability to contain quick Commodores point guard Kyle Fuller.
Senior Antonio Barton gave the Vols a nice spark at times, but he shot 2-of-8 and didn’t have a single assist in 22 minutes. But he contained Fuller better, leaving Martin with a classic conundrum.
Despite all those problems, though, Tennessee fought through it and gave itself a chance to win.
But the Vols didn’t win. And that’s not good.
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247
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