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Five Observations as Tennessee Falls at Home 66-48 to Kentucky

Donnie Tyndall-1-30

A night that started out with so much promise ended in disappointment as Kentucky came into Thompson-Boling Arena to hand the Vols their 11th loss of the season and sixth in their last eight games with a 66-48 win that was probably a little closer than the final score would seem to indicate.

Kentucky is now off to a program record 26-0 start to the 2014-2015 season while Tennessee falls to 14-11 on the year and 6-7 in the SEC. Here are five key takeaways from tonight’s game:

Cold at Home: It happened…again. After scoring 31 points in the first half of tonight’s game, the Vols would once again go cold in the not-so-friendly confines of Thompson Boling Arena after the break. Tennessee would only muster 17 points in the game’s final 20 minutes, including only four points over the final nine minutes of regulation. All told, Tennessee would make only 8-of-32 shots from the floor in the second half, which included a miserable 0-of-10 line from beyond the arc. The Vols didn’t help their cause at the free-throw line either, going just 1-of-6 from the stripe in the second half. Tennessee’s lack of quality depth continues to catch up with them in late-game situations, and tonight was no exception.

Here’s what Josh Richardson said after the game about his team’s cold second half:
“I don’t think we were executing as well as we were in the first half. I think our aggression was there. I just don’t think we were running our stuff like we know how too. It’s always frustrating, but when you’re playing a team that has like seven guys that are over 6’9, looks are gonna be tough. We just had to capitalize and we didn’t do that tonight.”

Kevin Punter: Much like the rest of his teammates, Vol junior guard Kevin Punter didn’t have a great night from beyond the arc (0-of-5 on the night), but he was still Tennessee’s most consistent scorer on a night where no shot came easy. Punter would finish the night with a team-high 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the floor, going a perfect 7-of-7 on two-point field goal attempts. Punter was able to get to the basket, create – and make – some tough shots, and was really the only player on Tennessee’s roster that found anything resembling consistency on the offensive end of the floor.

Atmosphere: The snow, cold and icy conditions didn’t do much, if anything, to deter tonight’s crowd of 21,678 from making their way to Thompson-Boling Arena. While Kentucky fans traveled well to this game, Tennessee’s orange-clad contingent did their part in making things rowdy and difficult for the visiting Wildcats. Butch Jones, Phil Fulmer and Dane Bradshaw were all on hand to take in the game and the crowd responded like you would expect them to. There were multiple stretches in each half where you could feel Tennessee fans trying to urge their team over the hump, but Kentucky’s talent was just too much for the scrappy Vols to overcome.

Devin Booker: Kentucky’s freshman guard Devin Booker deserves a lot of credit for his team’s victory tonight. Booker came of the bench to provide his team with a game-high 18 points on 5-of-16 shooting that included a pair of big 3s and a perfect 6-of-6 finish at the free-throw line. He would also chip in seven rebounds, an assist and a steal in his 30 minutes of playing time tonight. Coming into this game, Booker was averaging only 21 minutes and 11 points per game, but he almost single-handedly earned his team the victory tonight.

Not enough 3’s: As mentioned above, Tennessee did not have the finest night from beyond the arc in this game, and it proved to be the difference. Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndall said after the game that when he looked at the stat sheet he liked what he saw for the most part; his team outscored Kentucky 34-22 in the paint, matched the Cats on the glass with 35 rebounds and actually outscored Kentucky 17-16 in second-chance points… But then he saw that his team finished the night only 2-of-17 from three-point range.

“I think we tried to defend and did a good job rebounding the ball,” Tyndall said after the game. “If you make ten threes, like we’d hoped to, now that’s 24 more points, obviously. The complexion of the game changes but you’re not going to beat that team if you don’t shoot the ball from behind the 3-point line because they don’t give you enough baskets around the rim or two point opportunities.”

Tyndall told his team coming into the game that he felt they needed to hit at least ten 3s against Kentucky to have a real chance at winning, but another cold spell from beyond the arc would leave the Vols eight short of their coach’s benchmark. Kentucky didn’t set the world on fire, finishing a pedestrian 5-of-22 from deep themselves, but with Booker’s big night and another 14 points from Andrew Harrison, the Cats were able to pull away down the stretch.

Final Stats:

Best Tennessee Vine:

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