CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The least successful season of Bruce Pearl's six-year tenure as Tennessee's basketball coach, and perhaps his last, ended with an ugly, early exit from the NCAA tournament.
Tennessee freshman forward Tobias Harris scored a game-high 19 points, all in the first half, Friday during the Vols' 75-45 loss to Michigan in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Charlotte, N.C.
The ninth-seeded Volunteers continued their recent run of sloppy second halves, collapsing after halftime Friday afternoon in a 75-45 beatdown at the hands of No. 8 seed Michigan in the second round of the West Region at Time Warner Cable Arena.
It was the most lopsided NCAA tournament loss in program history.
For only the second time during its school-record streak of six consecutive NCAA appearances under Pearl, Tennessee (19-15) bowed out in the first round.
This time, the Vols were virtually a no-show.
They trailed only 33-29 at halftime before watching Michigan (21-13) quickly pull away to a double-digit lead and gradually stretch it to 33 points on the way to earning a third-round matchup with top-seeded Duke, which breezed past No. 16 seed Hampton.
"Well, we just didn't play with no heart today," said UT freshman forward Tobias Harris, who scored a game-high 19 points, all in the first half.
"I mean, Michigan came out, made shots, and we just did a terrible job of trying to cover them. And on the offensive end, we rushed too many shots and, you know, basically we just quit."
Pearl now will wait to learn his fate after Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton added to the uncertainty surrounding the embattled coach by saying during a radio interview aired Wednesday on Knoxville's WNML that "the jury is still out" on Pearl's future with the team.
"My desire is to be the head coach at Tennessee next year and for a long time," Pearl said.
Vols junior guard Cameron Tatum, who finished with five points and a team-high four assists in his return to the starting lineup after being benched for UT's loss to Florida in the SEC tournament quarterfinals, said Hamilton's comments and Pearl's situation provided just the latest of "many distractions" that affected the team "all year long."
"Stuff like that comes from different directions," Tatum said. "We tried to hide it, tried to move on and tried to let adversity fuel us, but I think it just kind of caught up with us."
It also might have been the last game for Tennessee's top two scorers.
The 6-foot-8 Harris and junior guard Scotty Hopson, who had only four points on 1-of-7 shooting, both are expected to consider declaring themselves eligible for this year's NBA draft.
After trailing for most of the first half, the Wolverines ran off 10 consecutive points in a span of 1:39 to take a 27-23 lead with 4:25 left before halftime.
Tennessee never regained the upper hand.
It didn't seem to matter that almost nothing went perfectly according to plan for Michigan in the first half. Freshman forward Jordan Morgan, the only true post player in the Wolverines' starting lineup, spent most of the half on the bench after picking up two early fouls, and the rest of the team shot only 3-of-15 from 3-point range and 41.7 percent from the floor.
"We were thrilled with our performance," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "These young men hung in there through a tough first half and turned it around in the second."
The Vols, meanwhile, shot 45 percent in the first half and went 10-for-12 at the free-throw line but failed to get significant contributions from anyone other than Harris. Hopson was UT's second-leading scorer for the half with four points.
The second half didn't turn out any better for Tennessee.
"They outplayed us for 35 minutes of the game," said senior center Brian Williams, who finished with two points and no rebounds in 16 minutes in his first start since the Vols' Jan. 8 loss at Arkansas.
"It's always tough for it to be your last game, but to go out like that is disappointing and embarrassing to not only us, but our university and our families."
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