Five Observations from Tennessee’s Close Loss to North Carolina

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    Photo Credit: Craig Bisacre/UT Athletics

    Tennessee found itself leading No. 7 North Carolina by 15 points in the first half at the Dean Dome.

    In the end, the Vols’ youth showed.

    Tennessee (4-4) dropped a nail-biter on the road to No. 7 Tar Heels (10-1) on Sunday night, falling just short in yet another upset bid away from home.

    Here are five observations from Tennessee’s close loss:

    Hubbs Dominates

    Senior forward Robert Hubbs III had a career night against the Tar Heels. Hubbs was perfect from the field on seven attempts in the first half, finishing with 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting.

    Hubbs lived up to his high profile recruiting ranking out of high school. He found the middle of the lane with ease and took advantage of his opportunities to score. Hubbs has the ability to take over a game, and did so against the Heels.

    The majority of Hubbs’ shots were contested. He earned every bit of his stellar offensive performance against a veteran UNC defense.

    Fulkerson and Williams Step Up…Again

    It doesn’t matter how outmatched or undersized they are, John Fulkerson and Grant Williams continue to play great basketball for Tennessee. Against a veteran front-court, Fulkerson and Williams combined for 15 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks.

    Williams (7 points, 6 rebounds) fouled out late, but showed that he can match up with anybody, no matter how much taller they are. Fulkerson (8 points, 4 rebounds) made all four of the shots he took. These two guys are fearless. They don’t care who’s matching up against them, even when its senior standout Kennedy Meeks.

    Hot Shooting Ends at the Wrong Time

    Tennessee has shot the ball extremely well ever since its season-opening loss at home to Chattanooga. Since that game, the Vols have shot 40% from behind the arc. Against North Carolina, Tennessee was 52% from the field against the Heels, but only shot 39% in the second half.

    Robert Hubbs was 2-for-4 in the second half, which is a big reason why the Vols’ field goal percentage suffered. Hubbs didn’t get enough touches late in the game, including on the Vols’ final possession when Lamonte Turner’s layup was blocked. Tennessee finished 3-of-13 from 3-point range. Jordan Bowden (12 pts) hit two 3s, but went cold towards the end of the game.

    Offensive Rebounds Make the Difference

    North Carolina only out-rebounded Tennessee by nine (41-32) but offensive boards were a glaring difference between these two teams.

    The Tar Heels grabbed 22 offensive rebounds, compared to Tennessee’s seven. North Carolina leads the nation in rebounding margin, and the Heels showed why against the undersized Vols.

    In order to take the next step and beat a team like North Carolina, Tennessee has to narrow the rebounding margin.

    Gutsy Performances Becoming the Norm

    Don’t sleep on Rick Barnes and these Vols this season in a weak SEC. Tennessee has some guys who can score the ball in bunches, and a bevy of young players who are quickly growing up. Despite the heartbreaking loss, Tennessee showed a lot of character and fight against one of the nation’s best teams.