Alabama handed No. 7 Tennessee its first loss of the season on Saturday evening inside of Thompson-Boling Arena. The Crimson Tide shot 10-of-20 from behind the 3-point line to defeat the Volunteers.
The Tide (7-3, 2-0 SEC) led by two at the half, but out-scored the Vols 40-34 in the second half courtesy of a 19-6 run over the first 5:03 to pick up the win. John Petty led the way for the Crimson Tide, scoring a team-high 18 points on 4-of-4 shooting from three.
Tennessee struggled shooting all night long. The Vols shot 32% from the field, 4-of-21 from the three-point line and was 17-of-26 from the free throw line. Victor Bailey Jr. (16), Santiago Vescovi (13) and Keon Johnson (12) were the only Vols to reach double-figures.
Here’s a look at the five biggest observations from Tennessee’s loss to Alabama:
Alabama catches fire from three
The Tide entered the day shooting 30.5% from three on the season, ranking ninth out of 14 teams in the SEC. Against, the Vols they shot 10-of-20 (50%) from distance.
It didn’t start off well from three for Alabama. The Crimson Tide shot just 2-of-9 in the first half. They then turned it on to begin the final half of play and did so rather quickly. Alabama hit five straight three’s to go on a 19-6 run over the first 5:03 of the second half to take control of the game. It proved to be the difference.
“We adjusted to (over-helping on three’s), and we got to where we were not going to over-help,” Vols head coach Rick Barnes said following the game. “They run what we call blurred screens and they do it 90 percent of the time.
“We had a couple of guys that we were concerned about that we get messed up in that and it happened. We adjusted to where we wanted them to play off the bounce. We wanted them to stay back and the guy on the ball to be raised to be able to contest the three, and we would live with that. What we didn’t want was driving and kicking out.”
The Tide led for the entire second half and by as many as 14 points before holding on to the eight-point win. Alabama knocked down 8-of-11 (72.7 percent) three pointers and shot 50 percent from deep after the intermission.
“Give them credit and I don’t want to take anything away from them,” Barnes said. “We have to get a lot better.”
Pons’ foul trouble
Alabama’s five consecutive made three’s proved to be the biggest difference in the game. But there were two developments in the first half that prevented Tennessee from finding a rhythm in the first half.
The first was Yves Pons picking up his second foul with 15:36 remaining in the first half. Pons sat for much of the opening 20 minutes, which resulted in him scoring just one point in six minutes of action. Tennessee missed Pons’ defense and that showed in the second half.
“It was (frustrating),” Pons said of his foul trouble. “That’s the game. It’s going to happen, but we still have to do a job even if we’re still in foul trouble. We have to just try to keep it up and do what we practice.”
After Alabama’s three-point barrage, Pons blocked five shots within a stretch of 5:15 to help Tennessee cut the Tide lead down to six.
“I think in a game like this or any game there are some times when you can throw out the scouting report,” Barnes said of Tennessee’s defense without Pons. “When you play against a team like Alabama, you know you will have to guard the three-point line and you know they can be capable of getting it going. They got us in our rotations, whether it was getting beat off the bounce or post guys getting beat. We didn’t deserve to win and they did.”
Springer goes down
The second development that slowed Tennessee’s roll in the first half was freshman guard Jaden Springer turning his left ankle. Springer was forced to leave the game and did not return. He finished with three points in five minutes.
Barnes did not have an update on Springer following the game, but Tennessee classified him as “day-to-day.”
Tennessee desperately missed Springer. In his limited time on the floor, he was one of the few Vols penetrating the Alabama defense and getting to the rim. He was also one of the few able to keep the Tide in front of him when guarding the ball.
“Jaden would thrive in a game like this,” Barnes said. “Even with all that said and done at the end of the game, if we had taken care of the ball and made a couple of shots, we had a chance. They were missing their free throws and gave us a chance, but we didn’t get it done. You have to give them credit, they came in and had a plan, they worked it better than we worked ours.”
Bad John Fulkerson game
Tennessee desperately missed the production of senior forward John Fulkerson who was benched down the stretch due to poor play. Fulkerson only played nine minutes in the second half and didn’t play against after being subbed out at the 8:03 mark.
“I am going to look hard at (the lineup),” Barnes said. “I may change the lineup, do some things. Even John Fulkerson. As far as I’m concerned guys can take his minutes. He’s been around long enough; he’s got to bring more than he brought today. He’s got to do it.”
Fulkerson finished with seven points on 2-of-5 shooting, but missed five free throws as he shot 3-of-8 from the charity stripe. He added five rebounds and an assist. Fulkerson finished with a plus/minus of -2.
“When you’re counting on guys like John Fulkerson and Yves Pons to be a big part of what you do and they aren’t out there, we don’t get to establish how we really want to play,” Barnes said. “Jaden wasn’t out there, and he has become a big part of what we want to do. We just weren’t good and we got exactly what we deserved.”
Poor assist-to-turnover ratio
Tennessee turned it over nine times against the Tide. That’s a number Barnes will be pleased with, but he won’t be pleased with only seven assists. At the end of the day, a team can’t have more turnovers than assists and expect to win.
As Barnes was to quick to point out following the game, however, it’s hard to tally assists when you miss a ton of shots.
“You can’t get assists if you don’t make shots, especially when you go 21-for-66,” Barnes said. “We had some good looks at it from the three, but again with Santi driving in and getting a couple of shots blocked – what he was doing a year ago – those kind of plays we just can’t do.
“With our offense in the end of the shot clock at three seconds, or giving up a back cut as well as and-one plays. So many plays like that you can think about, and when you’re not playing well offensively, you can’t help them defensively in special situations like that when you’re shooting the ball.”