3 Takeaways: Vols Get Crushed in Columbia

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    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    That was ugly. Tennessee travelled to Columbia, S.C., for a must-win matchup against the South Carolina Gamecocks (21-8, 11-5 SEC) and got absolutely crushed by a final of 82-55.

    Here are a few quick takeaways from the road loss for the Vols:

    1. Guard play disappoints 

    There are a myriad of issues you can point to in this game for Tennessee, but poor guard play has to be near the top of the list.

    Rick Barnes changed up the starting lineup, going with Kwe Parker and Lamonte Turner in place of Jordan Bone and Shembari Phillips (Jordan Bowden missed his second straight game due to illness), but regardless of the combination on the floor, the Vols couldn’t get anything going offensively.

    The numbers were dreadful. The Vols finished 1-of-13 from 3-point territory, committed 20 turnovers and had just three assists on the afternoon. Much of that falls on the shoulders of the guards. The Vols looked to miss Bowden and his ability to stretch the defense, but the point guard play in particular is the biggest issue right now. Neither Turner nor Jordan Bone have played well at the point recently, leaving UT with few options. Senior Robert Hubbs III, who is more of a hybrid guard/small forward, was even asked to run the point at times during Saturday’s matchup against the Gamecocks.

    The Vols have gotten enough out of the young point guards to be successful at time this season, but they’ve let them down in the closing weeks of the season.

    2. Slow start, slower finish

    Tennessee put an impressive rally together on Saturday that spanned the final few moments of the first half and the opening moments of the second. But that 12-1 run by the Vols that pulled the game back to within four points with 18:01 remaining in the second half, was sandwiched by an atrocious start to the game and a disheartening finish.

    The Vols weren’t competitive in the opening minutes and were down by as many as 17 by the 7:10 mark of the first half before mounting the brief comeback. And once the Vols did cut the lead down to four, it was all South Carolina from there as the Gamecocks outscored Tennessee 44-18 in the final 18 minutes of the contest.

    With their at-large tournament hopes on the line, Tennessee has now come out flat in consecutive huge games.

    3. At-large hopes disappear 

    Tennessee, which came into Saturday projected as out of the NCAA Tournament by ESPN’s bracket expert Joe Lunardi, needed a signature road win to keep any realistic hopes of an at-large big to the NCAA tournament alive. Saturday’s disappointing performance fell well short of that, and realistically ends whatever shot Tennessee had remaining at earning an at-large bid to the Big Dance.

    Tennessee (15-14, 7-9 SEC) still has the chance to pile up a few more victories down the stretch, but, going back through 1985, no at-large team has made it to the NCAA Tournament with 15 losses – which is the minimum Tennessee can now finish with and be an at-large candidate. Simply put, Tennessee must win the SEC tournament at this point if it wants to go dancing. Any realistic shot at an at-large bid is now gone.

    Final stats: