NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee’s time in the SEC Tournament, and likely its season, came to an end on Friday night at the hands of the Arkansas Razorbacks, who rode a hot first-half effort to an 80-72 victory despite another great come-from-behind effort from the Vols
Here are a few observations from Tennessee’s performance in the quarterfinals:
1. Richardson goes out strong
It was, no doubt, a tough way for senior guard Josh Richardson to go out. He fouled out with less than a minute remaining and watched the closing seconds tick off the clock in what will likely be his final collegiate game. But Richardson can hold his head high after yet another gutsy performance that included 22 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in 38 minutes of game action. Richardson was especially assertive late, helping the Vols hang within a few possessions down the stretch despite the poor start.
2. Portis causes early problems
Arkansas forward Bobby Portis showed why he was the SEC Player of the Year and a likely first-round pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, scoring 26 points and grabbing 11 rebounds while altering several shots and making life miserable for UT’s undersized front line, especially early. “The biggest thing is he’s just so, so strong and so athletic,” said coach Donnie Tyndall. “A lot of times they just play over the top of us. We were in decent position, but they throw it a little bit higher than we could go get it and he makes plays on balls. “He’s got great hands. His second jump is incredible. Probably four or five, six of his points came on offensive rebounds where we didn’t block him out.”
3. Poor first half too much to overcome
The Vols have been no strangers to slumps on the offensive end, and also haven’t been intimidated by opponents building large leads this year, but the hole they dug on Friday was simply too much to overcome. The Vols shot just 16 percent from the field through the first 20 minutes of the game and went into the break trailing 45-25.
“We have had a few halves like that this year, believe it or not,” Tyndall said. “We really struggled at the offensive end of the floor where we just don’t have that true post player to throw it to and alleviate some pressure from our perimeter. But the biggest thing were the turnovers. That’s what bothered me the most. We weren’t aggressive probably the first 10 minutes of the half. We settled for some jump shots…But that first half was rough, no question about it.”
4. Vols show resiliency down the stretch
Nobody in orange was pleased with the final result, but the second half was somewhat of a microcosm of the entire season. The odds were against Tennessee. The Vols were outmatched by a physically superior team with more talent, size and depth. But they battled and made it interesting – getting the game to within two possessions in the final minutes on multiple occasions before the Razorbacks pulled away for the win.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Tyndall said. “They competed like they have all year long for 40 minutes. If we could have just started the game a little bit better, maybe it’s a different story. But give Arkansas credit for that.”
5. Vols likely done for the season
Tennessee (16-16) likely played its last game of the year with the loss putting them out realistic NIT contention. Two lesser tournaments – the CIT or CBI – could be in play, but Tyndall hinted that those won’t be in the Vols’ future in all likelihood. “Well, that would be something I would discuss with my athletic director, [Dave] Hart and Jon Gilbert,” Tyndall said of his postseason options. “It would probably be no postseason unless it happened to be the NIT and if we’re still in the mix there or not. If we were to get an invitation there, I believe we certainly would do that. And the other two would be up for discussion, although I would lean towards saying we probably would not play in either of those two [CIT or CBI].”
It would mark the first time UT hasn’t played in a postseason tournament since the 2004-05 season.
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— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) March 14, 2015