Tennessee (8-7, 1-2 SEC) looked well on its way to knocking off No. 21 Texas A&M (13-2, 3-0 SEC) for its second consecutive SEC win. After leading 34 minutes, and by as many as 13 points, Tennessee collapsed at the end, missing eight of its final nine shots while the Aggies hit their last six shots to pull off the come-from-behind win.
Here are five quick observations from the game:
1. Turnovers spoil strong effort for the Vols: Tennessee had this one, no doubt about it. The Vols led by 13 at one point, held a lead for over 34 minutes of game time and, and even after some sloppy stretches in the second half, they still had a six-point lead with under three minutes to play. Turnovers, particularly a few costly ones late, however, sunk the Vols’ chances to pull off their second straight SEC win and get their first victory over a ranked opponent this season. UT turned it over three times in the final five minutes and had a season-high 18 turonvers on the day. Barnes harped on that as the biggest cause of UT’s loss in his postgame comments: “We just can’t turn the ball over the way we did…we were just throwing the ball into people’s arm’s length,” he said.
2. Defense falters in second half as well: Barnes pointed out that the turnovers led to a lot of easy buckets for the Aggies in the second half, upping their field-goal percentage. But even with that considered, UT’s defense didn’t have the same intensity down the stretch, and A&M capitalized on that. After hitting just 37.5% of their shots from the field in the first half, the Aggies upped their field-goal percentage to 64% in the final 20 minutes, hitting their last nine shots of the game in the process.
3. Vols show good balance: There were clearly some bright spots for Tennessee, and perhaps most noticeable was the impressive balance that the Vols showed offensively. With defenses continuing to key on leading scorer Kevin Punter, who still managed to score 19 points, the Vols finished with six players in double-digit scoring with Admiral Schofield, Robert Hubbs III, Shembari Phillips, Devon Baulkman and Detrick Mostella joining Punter in that category.
4. Freshmen step up: While the present was a bit frustrating for Tennessee on Saturday afternoon, the future looked bright with freshmen Admiral Schofield and Shembari Phillips stepping up with some big performances for the Vols. Phillips, who Rick Barnes said played his best game of the year, had a career-high 15 points, including a 9-of-10 effort from the free-throw line. He hadn’t scored more than eight points in a game this season coming into the game on Saturday. Schofield continues his hot start to SEC play as well, scoring 16 points to go along with 22 and 17-point efforts against Auburn and Florida, respectively, so far in conference play. Schofield, who started as part of UT’s small-ball lineup with no players over 6-foot-5 on the floor, also added six rebounds despite missing chunks of the second half due to foul trouble.
5. Mostella for the win…almost: Despite the late meltdown, UT had the ball with a chance to either tie it or take the lead in the closing seconds. Kevin Punter got to the rim for a lay-up attempt that just missed the mark. Devon Baulkman hauled in the rebound and kicked it to a wide-open Detrick Mostella, who had his shot go in and out of the cylinder for what was almost a massive go-ahead bucket with 10 seconds remaining. Barnes said it was the look the Vols wanted at the end with Mostella, who had hit three of his four 3-point attempts on the day getting a clean look. The Vols simply didn’t get the roll on Saturday.
Final stats: pic.twitter.com/XJGbAkyXGK
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) January 9, 2016