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Vols Battle, Can’t Finish Comeback Against No. 8 Gonzaga

Once again, Tennessee had a chance to beat a top-10 team.

And once again, the Vols couldn’t finish what would have been a statement win, as Tennessee’s comeback attempt against No. 8 Gonzaga fell short, losing 86-76.

How it Happened

Gonzaga couldn’t miss from 3-point range to start the game. The Zags made six of their first 10 3s, and jumped out to a 31-12 lead halfway through the first half.

“We didn’t give ourselves a chance there early,” Rick Barnes said after the game.

“We can’t play the way we started the game. I thought we played as poorly as we’ve played all year. I didn’t like our demeanor. We didn’t give ourselves a chance there early. They don’t need any help.”

But Tennessee hung in there and battled back. The Vols allowed just 12 points in the final 10 minutes of the first half, giving themselves a chance to come back in the second.

The Vols battled back behind the play of Detrick Mostella (17 points) and Grant Williams (11 points). Mostella scored 15 points in the second half, going 5-for-12 (3-for-9 from 3).

Grant Williams played just five minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, but made his mark on the game in the second half. Williams was scoreless at halftime, but made all three of his field goals and adding six points at the free throw line.

The Vols cut the Gonzaga lead down to four points twice in the second half, but in the end couldn’t finish the comeback against a veteran Bulldogs team.

Life Without Fulkerson

This was Tennessee’s first game without John Fulkerson, who will miss at least six weeks with an elbow injury he suffered on Thursday against Lipscomb. Against 7-footers Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, UT’s Lew Evans and Grant Williams had their work cut out for them.

Collins and Karnowski had 10 points apiece and combined for 12 rebounds.

Rick Barnes said that Tennessee wasn’t worried about Gonzaga’s ability to block shots, but needed to rebound better.

“They don’t block a lot of shots. If you look at it today, they blocked four shots. But they’re a good defensive team and they are an excellent defensive rebounding team, and we’re still not there,” Barnes said.

The Vols were out-rebounded by just four (42-38) and grabbed 20 offensive rebounds.

“We were ready for their size. We just didn’t come out with energy,” Lamonte Turner added.

Barnes said that Tennessee will continue to turn to Kyle Alexander (2 points, 6 rebounds) in place of Fulkerson.

“All we need him to do is what John Fulkerson did for us,” Barnes said.

Guards Struggle, but Parker Shines

Freshman point guard Kwe Parker started the season on the bench due to injury, but has impressed Rick Barnes since his return. Parker played 15 minutes against Gonzaga, scoring two points and adding four assists. After Parker, Rick Barnes said that he needs more out of his guards.

“Our guard play is not consistent, Kwe (Parker) is starting to figure it out as much as anybody.”

Lamonte Turner scored eight points on 2-of-10 shooting. Jordan Bowden added nine points and six rebounds in 27 minutes of action.

“I thought Lamonte tried harder today than I’ve ever seen him try defensively,” Barnes said. “I thought he really tried, and that’s why he hasn’t played. We’ve still got to get more consistent play at our guard spots.”

Turner says that Tennessee’s tough non-conference schedule has helped him in his first season.

“I think it’s definitely been a good experience. You want to come out and play the best teams in the country, and I think we have. We don’t play these games and practice everyday to come close. It’s still disappointing to lose even though they’re a top team in the country.”

Playing Horseshoes Not Good Enough for Barnes

“If we were playing horseshoes we’d be a pretty good team.”

That’s what Rick Barnes said after another narrow defeat to a ranked opponent, Tennessee’s third this season.

“If you guys want to be close, that’s not where we want to be. We still have a chance to do some really special things. We’ve got to have everybody playing their hearts out. Where the youth shows up is guys start feeling good about themselves. There’s never enough leeway when you’re not winning,” Barnes said.

Senior guard Robert Hubbs had just 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting. Three of those game in the second half.

“We’ve just got to play harder and defend the ball. We came out with no energy. I take full responsibility,” Robert Hubbs added. “In basketball one or two plays can make a difference in the game. We didn’t get stops.”

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