3 Observations: Vols Lose Heartbreaker to Loyola, 63-62

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    Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

    Tennessee got off to a great start, and Admiral Schofield was on fire in the first few minutes. But then Loyola-Chicago tightened up, and the Vols couldn’t buy a bucket for a six minute and four minute stretch in the first half.

    The Vols only had 25 points at halftime. And their comeback effort was too late in the second half.

    Loyola-Chicago hit a three at the buzzer to defeat No. 6 seed Miami to advance past the first round, and they used another last second shot to get by the Vols. Tennessee took a 62-61 lead after Grant Williams muscled inside, made his shot, picked up a foul, and made his free throw.

    But the Ramblers had 20 seconds left to work their magic. And they did just that, as Clayton Custer hit a jumper that saw the ball bounce all around the rim and backboard with just over 3 seconds to go.

    And just like that, Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament run came to an end.

    Here are our three biggest takeaways from the Vols’ heartbreaking loss to Loyola-Chicago.

    Too Little Too Late

    Tennessee jumped out to a 15-6 lead, and Admiral Schofield had 11 points in the first four and a half minutes. But after that, it was all Loyola-Chicago for almost the rest of the game.

    The Ramblers took a 23-22 lead with six minutes left in the first half and they didn’t give the lead back again until Williams hit his free throw with 20 seconds to go.

    The Vols fought back and stole the lead back late. But they missed several opportunities throughout the game, and their defense wasn’t as solid as it has been. Tennessee bit on several pump fakes and allowed the Ramblers to control the tempo for a large part of the game.

    Tennessee finally figured out their game in the second half, but it was too little too late.

    Got Away from Their Game

    For whatever reason, the Vols got away from what got them 25 wins in the season for most of their contest against Loyola-Chicago.

    The Ramblers did a good job of defending the paint, double teaming Grant Williams and not letting much penetration from Tennessee’s guards. The absence of Kyle Alexander, who missed the entire game due to injury, was big on both ends of the court. The Vols’ paint presence was much weaker than usual, and they finished with 15 assists on 25 made baskets. That’s not a bad ratio, but Tennessee typically does better than that.

    Tennessee was settling for threes far too often in this game. The Vols shot 25 threes and made only nine of them. They finished with 22 points in the paint and gave up 20 points inside to the Ramblers. Tennessee was also out-rebounded 27 to 24.

    Kyle Alexander’s absences was evident. Alexander doesn’t always fill up the stat sheet, but he makes an impact, especially on defense. And that was never more apparent than when he wasn’t on the court tonight.

    Couldn’t Defeat Cinderella 

    UMBC may be the No. 1 Cinderella team now since they’re the first ever No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed, but Loyola is a lovable Cinderella team as well thanks to their story and because of Sister Jean. And Tennessee couldn’t end the Cinderella story on Saturday.

    The Vols hadn’t lost to a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament since No. 12 seed Southwest Missouri State defeated Tennessee 81-51 in the second round of the 1999 tournament. The Vols were 7-0 against double-digit seeded teams since then.

    But that streak came to an end on Saturday night, and Cinderella is still dancing.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.