3 Observations: UT Goes One-And-Done in SEC Tourney

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    Photo Credit: Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For the second time this season, Tennessee dropped a heartbreaker to Georgia.

    This one came at the worst possible time, likely ending any shot the Vols had at a bid to the NIT.

    The Vols weathered a slow start to make their conference tourney opener a thriller, but came up on the wrong end, falling 59-57 when Admiral Schofield couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just seconds remaining in the game. Here are three observations from Tennessee’s heartbreaking loss to the eighth-seeded Bulldogs.

    Freshman Guards Lead the Way

    Shembari Phillips was listed as doubtful before the game, and freshman point guard Lamonte Turner got the start for Tennessee.

    Turner was lights out. Early in the first half, he was all Tennessee had offensively.

    Turner moved the ball around well, his teammates just didn’t finish. Turner’s biggest challenge was guarding J.J. Frazier, and he did a good job of stopping the Georgia star in the first half. He led the Bulldogs in scoring with seven at the break, but never really took over the game.

    Jordan Bone also stepped up in Phillips’ absence. The freshman guard tallied eight points in the opening frame, including two crazy step-back 3s as time expired in the first half.

    Turner was the catalyst all day for Tennessee, and it helped free up Bone as well. Grant Williams’ offensive absence hurt, but Bone and Turner picked up the slack. Turner’s 3-point line was decent, but it was his penetration into the lane that was crucial.

    Success without Williams Shows Maturity

    Tennessee couldn’t find a way to win with its star forward quiet on the offensive end. But the Vols’ showed maturity in finding other ways to score. Williams had six points in 23 minutes, and didn’t attempt a shot until late in the second half.

    Williams also had four fouls with roughly five minutes to go in the game.

    Turner and Bone showed maturity they lacked early in the season. Even a few weeks ago, UT would have crumbled under the pressure of picking up Williams’ slack. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Admiral Schofield for being a big part of that success. Schofield had nine points, 11 rebounds in 30 minutes.

    Defensively, Kyle Alexander was spectacular. He only played 13 minutes, but had two crucial blocks. Guarding Yante Maten was no easy task for the UT forwards, and with Williams in foul trouble, it was a lot harder.

    No, Tennessee didn’t win the game, but a month ago they would’ve been blown out with Williams scoring that little. Fans can at least be hopeful about the maturation of UT’s young guards.

    Strong Defense Negated by Fast-Break offense

    In Tennessee’s first game against the Bulldogs, Rick Barnes said the difference in the game was Georgia’s ability to shoot the ball. UGA shot 52% in Thompson Boling Arena en route to a one-point victory.

    On Thursday, Georgia was 43% from the field.

    UT did enough on the defensive end of the ball to win the game. The Vols forced 15 turnovers, but only cashed in 13 points off those giveaways. On the fast break, UT was scoreless. If Tennessee had been able to get out in transition once the ball was turned over, the game would have looked a lot different

    Tennessee missed its first six shots in the game, and was held scoreless at the first media timeout. Turner’s 3-pointer finally ended the drought just over four minutes into the game.

    Give credit to the freshman guards for stepping up offensively, but their youth showed in transition opportunities.

    In contrast, J.J. Frazier killed UT when the tempo increased. He finished with 17 points on just 4-of-13 shooting. He did most of his damage at the free throw line, where he was a perfect 8-for-8.

    At the end of the day, Frazier took over the game when he had to. That was the difference.

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