In a game that looked destined for a tight finish at the midway point of the second half, Tennessee would go ice cold from the floor and allow Alabama to slowly pull away and secure the victory in front of a crowd of 16,695 in Thompson Boling Arena. It was a forgettable second-half performance for this Tennessee team who has exceeded expectations to this point in the season, but Donnie Tyndall’s squad finally appeared to run out of gas down the stretch against a well-rounded Alabama team.
With the loss, Tennessee now falls to 9-5 on the season and 1-1 in SEC play.
Here are five takeaways from today’s game:
Cold Shooting: The second half began for Tennessee with 8 quick points from senior guard Josh Richardson – who would finish with 17 on the afternoon – and it looked like the Vols were going to be able to ride his hot hand all the way to the finish line. But after Derek Reese hit two free throws with 13:39 remaining in the game, the Vols would embark on a journey through the basketball desert with no oasis in sight. Tennessee would go scoreless for the next 13:02 of gametime, the final points of the day coming on an Armani Moore layup with :37 remaining on the clock. All told, the vols would score 14 points in the second half, 6 points over the final 16:50 and only 2 over the final 13:39 minutes of action. Tennessee finished the day 14-of-45 from the floor (31%), 2-of-17 from three (12%) and 8-of-11 from the free throw line (73%). Richardson was the only Vol to score in double figures and only five Tennessee players would record a basket. And while all of the Tide’s points were scored by their starting five, three Alabama players would finish with 13 points or more.
Home streak snapped: Tonight was Tennessee’s first loss at home this season, and it just happened to come in front of the largest crowd to see a Donnie Tyndall coached Volunteer team in Thompson Boling Arena. The loss snapped a 10-game home winning streak for this team, a 13-game streak for the program – dating back to last season’s February 11th loss to Florida – and becomes Donnie Tyndall’s first home loss in his last 22 games. In every game at home this season, Tennessee had found a way to make a few second half runs against its opponents. But against Alabama, the runs never came.
Junior forward Armani Moore credited Alabama for never allowing a Vol run to start:
“It’s not a shock at all,” Moore said after the game. “Most of the time when you have good players, credit Alabama they are a good team. They just came out and made better plays at the end. We weren’t making shots and also rebounding more at the end. That’s a result of that, you lose the ballgame. It’s not about laying around moping this week, it’s all about going out and getting better. And hopefully the next game we can get a W.”
Turnovers: Turnovers are part of the game, but good teams can usually battle back on the defensive end of the floor to limit their opponent’s production after giving the ball away. Tennessee was simply unable to do that against Alabama in this game. Alabama would score 18 points off of Tennessee’s 13 turnovers, while, conversely, the Vols would only muster seven points on 12 takeaways.
When asked if he thought his team seemed timid on the offensive end of the floor, Donnie Tyndall said that he felt his team’s poor shooting led to some carelessness with the basketball:
“We have such a young, inexperienced team, a lot of these situations we go through are the first time,” Tyndall said. “So it is kind of the first time, at home, that we went without shooting the ball real well and went for that long a period of time of not scoring. You could see guys drop their heads a little bit. All I did was encourage them and try to pump them up to try to stay aggressive, ‘we are going to make a few of these, this is our time.’ Unfortunately it never happened but it will be a learning experience. These guys will watch the film tomorrow, the good thing about basketball, you don’t have to wait a week to play, we will get another chance to play on Tuesday and hopefully we will play better.”
Josh Richardson: Tennessee’s do-everything senior was, once again, the best player on the floor. Richardson played 34 minutes and scored 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field. His hustle at both ends is undeniable and it is obvious that this team doesn’t have the same level of intensity when he isn’t on the court – which is probably why he currently leads the league in minutes played per game. Richardson, clearly upset by the loss, was short with his answers during his postgame interview, but did note that Alabama’s switch to a zone defense in the second half gave him and his teammates trouble on offense. Tennessee will have to find other players around Richardson to step up if they are to have any chance of being in the bubble conversation in March, which brings me to my final thought on tonight’s game…
Depth: …or lack thereof. Tennessee currently has only nine scholarship players that are capable of playing and it will be a long season if a few of them don’t develop into more consistent players. For a team that prides themselves on taking their opponents legs in the second half, in this game it was the Vols who appeared to lose their steam in the second half. Tennessee only saw a combined two points from Devon Baulkman, Detrick Mostella and Kevin Punter against Alabama, and, as mentioned above, Josh Richardson finished the game as Tennessee’s only player to score more than eight points. All of the players listed above have had games in which they have scored at least 17 points; so the talent and ability is clearly present, even if the consistency isn’t. This team was never going to be among the highest scoring teams in the league, but the Vols have to be able to count on consistent points from someone outside of Josh Richardson moving forward.