No. 21 Tennessee lost its second consecutive game on Wednesday night, falling to Cincinnati 78-66 on the road.
Four days after struggling in a loss to in-state rival Memphis, the Vols (7-3) once again did not get out to a good start against Cincinnati (7-4). The Bearcats began the game on an 8-0 run sparked by back-to-back threes on their opening two possessions of the game. Over the course of the first two minutes, Lamonte Turner picked up two fouls and promptly took a seat on the bench.
Despite the slow start, the Vols quickly responded with a 10-2 run of their own to tie the game at 10-all. Freshman Davonte Gaines, who replaced Turner, sparked the run along with John Fulkerson. The two teams would battle back-and-forth for much of the opening half before the Bearcats went on a 10-0 run to claim a 38-32 lead with 1:46 remaining in the half — causing Rick Barnes to call a timeout.
Following the timeout, Jordan Bowden hit an elbow jumper, and the Vols held the Cincinnati offense scoreless the remainder of the half. The Bearcats led 38-34 at halftime after what was their best offensive half of the season. Cincinnati shot 64 percent from the field and was 4-of-8 from the 3-point line.
Tennessee shot 52 percent in the opening half. Fulkerson led the way with 10 points of 4-of-5 shooting.
Turner got off to a rough start in the second half as well, but this time it was because he turned his left ankle and had to make a trip in the locker room. Turner would return, and just like the first half, both teams battled closely the remainder of the way. Though it was a close game, the Bearcats led nearly the entire second half by just a few points, but never more than four points — until the 6:21 mark.
That’s when the game unraveled for the Vols, who trailed 58-57 following a bucket from Turner. From that point on, Cincinnati outscored Tennessee 20-6 over the final six minutes to end the game.
Here’s a look at our five observations from Tennessee’s second consecutive loss.
Tennessee hadn’t allowed an opponent to each 70 points all season long. Cincinnati had struggled mightily on the offensive end all season long. That all changed on Wednesday night.
The Bearcats scored 78 points against a Tennessee defense that allowed them to shoot 56.4 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from the 3-point line, and to get to the free throw line 16 times. Communication was a problem all night long for the Vols, allowing many open shots from the field and the 3-point line. The Bearcats assisted on 17 of their 31 made shots.
Cincinnati also won the battle on the boards, 32-21, and grabbed 11 offensive rebounds.
Turner and Bowden continue to struggle
Entering the season, it was widely known that Tennessee would go as its duo of senior guards would go. Well, both Turner and Bowden have gotten off to a slow start, and that continued against Cincinnati.
Turner, who is battling a shoulder injury, scored zero points on 0-of-2 shooting in the first half while picking up two fouls in the opening two minutes of the game. He had three turnovers at intermission.
To start the second half, Turner sprained his left ankle and went to locker room. Turner would return minutes later to score 12 second half points. He would finish with 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting, four turnovers, and three assists.
As for Bowden, he finished with 13 points, but he was just 4-for-12 from the field and missed four of his five attempted three-point shots. He did finish with six rebounds, but the senior struggled on the defensive end more than usual.
Inconsistent on offense
Tennessee found a groove on offense midway through the first half, but it proved to be a fluke. Cincinnati’s press caused multiple Tennessee turnovers, and when the Vols were able to get it across half court, the offense became stagnant, often times forcing a bad shot at the end of the shot clock.
Cincy’s size also proved to be too big for the Vols to handle. With two guys over 7-foot tall — Chris Vogt and Jaume Sorolla — Tennessee struggled to defend and get shots off on the offensive end. Vogt and Sorrolla combined to scored 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting. The duo combined to grab eight rebounds.
Tennessee’s big men only scored 18 points, with Fulkerson accounting for 14 of them.
Fulkerson leads the way
The redshirt-junior forward was the best player on the court for the Vols against the Bearcats. Fulkerson led the way in the first half with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting and was very active on the defensive end. In addition to leading the team in scoring in the opening half, he was the vocal point of the offense.
Fulkerson’s production dropped off in the second half, however, scoring just four minutes over the course of the final 20 minutes of the game. He finished the game with just four rebounds.
Just like Tennessee’s best player — Lamonte Turner — Cincinnati’s best player, Jarron Cumberland, has had a miserable start to his senior season. Cumberland’s struggles continued against the Vols.
Cumberland quickly picked up two fouls to begin the game, and after sitting most of the first half, picked up two quick fouls to begin the second half that caused him to take a seat on the bench with 17 minutes remaining in the game. He checked back in with just under eight minutes remaining.
Finishing with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting with six turnovers, Cumberland fouled out with 1:57 remaining in the game.
Following the loss, Tennessee now returns home for a Saturday afternoon match-up with lowly Jacksonville State (3-7) heading into the Christmas break. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET on SEC Network+.
After week off during the holiday break, Tennessee will host Wisconsin (5-5) the following Saturday, Dec. 28, at 1:30 p.m. ET on CBS.