Tennessee falls to Alabama in semifinals of SEC Tournament

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    Tennessee entered the semifinal showdown with Alabama without one of its leaders, as John Fulkerson was sidelined due to a concussion and facial fracture. But, if you were looking for a group to step up and fight with Bama for 40 minutes, Tennessee was your team.

    The Vols played the four guard rotation today at times, in Fulkerson’s absence, with Josiah-Jordan James getting the nod. As the Vols led 11-4 at the first media break of the game, you could see the fight in this team. Even though they committed three turnovers in the course of 1:11, Keon Johnson was leading the Vols with 8 points to open the game.

    Tennessee was playing mostly good defense on the Tide, forcing them into mistakes around the basket, as they shot 1-7 from the field. The Vols were taking advantage of poor shooting from Alabama, as they went on a 13-3 run over 4:13, to extend the lead to 36-24. Yves Pons was making noise around the rim and Uros Plavsic was a contributing factor on defense. Plavsic actually played 17 minutes for Tennessee today, coming up clutch on a few possessions.

    But the same type of problems starting to emerge from the Vols, as the Vols were rolling for 23 minutes. Turnovers have been a problem for this group, but also scoring droughts. This came about towards the end of the 1st half, as Alabama went on a 7-0 run and the Vols were held scoreless from the field.

    The Vols were leading 40-31 at halftime, thanks in part to 16 points from Keon Johnson. Tennessee shot 47% from the field and scored 14 points off 12 Alabama turnovers. This group was battling and in all honesty, the game could’ve been even worse for the Tide.

    As the second half whistle blew, the Vols were still attacking the basket. They continued to play through the paint, but the turnovers started to creep its head around the first media break. Tennessee went on a stretch where they committed 7 turnovers in 5:45. Alabama took full advantage of the sloppy play, as they went on a 14-3 run.

    Even as the Vols still led, you could feel things slowly starting to slip away. As the under eight break came, Tennessee led 57-51. During this sequence, Uros continued to play tough in the paint, even getting out for a dunk to extend the lead.

    But as Keon Johnson committed another turnover for the Vols, Alabama took advantage and didn’t give them any easy baskets. Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer had a combined 10 turnovers, with seven minutes left to play. Those are the type of things that have given the Vols problems all season and it didn’t stop today.

    Alabama drained a three with 3:30 left in the game to take a 64-61 lead, as the Vols had gone over 4:51 without a made FG. Those types of numbers are unfortunately normal for Tennessee, as scoring droughts have been kryptonite all season. But, in some for or fashion, the Vols still had a shot at this game. As the clock ticked under one minute, Yves Pons drained a three-pointer to make it 69-68 Bama, with :43 left on the clock.

    The ensuing possession is what makes this Tennessee team interesting. As the Tide got the ball back, Rick Barnes subbed in Davonte Gaines, looking for a defensive stop. Well, that’s exactly what happened and they fouled him in the process. The Vols had a chance to tie or take the lead, but unfortunately Gaines missed both free throws. It’s had to put much on Gaines, the kid didn’t play until :20 remaining in the game, I imagine he was cold as ice.

    But, as much as Tennessee kept defending Alabama, the Vols had the opportunity to tie the game at the end. As the clock was winding down, Rick Barnes called a timeout to setup the play. According to Vescovi, it was supposed to be his shot, but he wasn’t getting much space between his defender. So, he passed it off to Victor Bailey Jr., who put up a shot that was never close to going end. A few free throws later and Alabama had won.

    this performance from Tennessee shouldn’t be lost on anyone though, they had a chance to tie it, you crave those opportunities. But, they came up short. One would wonder what this game would’ve looked like with Fulkerson a part of it, but that’s all just guessing now. The simple fact is, Tennessee had an opportunity to win the game in the last minute, but missed on the opportunity.

    Johnson and Springer combined for 38 points today against Alabama.

    If there are certain things you can take from this loss, my first one would be the play of Uros Plavsic, but also how Tennessee kept this thing close until the final whistle blew. The Vols got enough points out of their freshman, but left a bunch more on the court. This team has shown they have the talent, but have yet to put together a complete game.

    Now, they head to Indianapolis, where they will play in the NCAA Tournament. The goal all along has been to win a championship, well that goal is still attainable. It’s now a single elimination season, win or go home. As Rick Barnes sat at the podium this afternoon, he said he was excited fo this week. If his team can string together a few consistent performances, anything can happen. If not, they’ll be back in Knoxville by next weekend.

    We’re here, maybe a day early, but Tennessee will now turn its focus over to the the big dance. It’s win or go home time, and I don’t think this group wants to be around Knoxville for the next month.

    Trey Wallace is a Knoxville-based journalist who has been covering University of Tennessee athletics since early 2018. His passion for sports is evident in his work and has led him to break some of college football's biggest stories. His vast social media reach and natural podcast proficiency continue to make Wallace one of Vol Nation's most trusted sources. Wallace was born and raised in Mobile, AL and graduated from the University of South Alabama. He loves the mountains as much as the beach and looks forward to living in East Tennessee for many years to come.