Tennessee came to Indianapolis looking to take advantage of an opportunity to start fresh in the NCAA Tournament. It turns out the Vols left any kind of offense they had in Nashville. Oregon State seemed to take all the momentum they gained in Las Vegas and brought it directly to the first round.
The Vols, playing without John Fulkerson again today, started Uros Plavsic, who actually played a few good minutes. As Tennessee would come to find out, they were going to have major problems in the paint today, thanks to Beavers big man Roman Silva. As the first eight minutes showed us, this was going to be a rough day for the Vols.
Santiago Vescovi missing his first two 3’s in the game was a sign of things to come for the Vols. As Oregon State ran out to a 18-7 lead, the Vols were just 3-13 from the FG range and 0-6 from behind the perimeter. Tennessee couldn’t hit a shot from the under twelve break to the under four timeout. The Vols trailed 27-11 at the 3:48 mark, scoring just 4 points in just under eight minutes of action.
It wasn’t just the Vols shooting, they were actually getting open looks, but nothing was falling for them today, it was a dreadful first half performance, as they scored only 19 points, which was the fewest they’ve scored all season. Roman Silva had 12 points in the first half, as the Beavers were focusing their offense through the big man.
As Yves Pons picked up his 2nd foul with just over 8 minutes to play in the first half, it felt like this team was out of their element. Tennessee played too inconsistent in the first half to be a force in the paint, the Vols had no shot against Silva.
As halftime approached, Oregon State led 33-19. The Vols 8-31 from the field and 2-13 from behind the perimeter, digging themselves a hole which would prove to be hard to dig out.
The second half began and the Vols were still trying to find a way to stop the Oregon State shooting. Tennessee never fully got into the groove when it comes to forcing the ball to the basket, it felt like this group was happy with outside shots. As the Vols were trying to put something together on offense, they seemed to be doing it without a plan. There were too many times they would come up the court and jack up shots, without going through the motions. If anything was going to prevent the Vols from succeeding today, it was going to be there paint production.
Even as the Vols went on a 7-0 run before the under twelve break, they still found themselves down 50-34. Tennessee was playing better on offense during this sequence, but could never quite get things fully going. Unfortunately for them, Yves Pons picked up his 4th foul before the under twelve break, forcing the Vols to play Anosike, not Plavsic. At this point, Tennessee was 13-43 from the field and 2-15 from outside the arc. This group looked flustered and it showed.
The rest of the game saw Tennessee get it within 10 points at one time, but this game was already over. For the Vols, it came down to a lack of presence in the paint and not being aggressive enough around the basket. Yes, the Vols had some open looks and the shots weren’t falling, but the Beavers were forcing Tennessee to take bad shots most of the 2nd half.
It was little to late for this group as the final few minutes ticked off the clock, though we saw more aggression from the group during this time, compared to the first 36 minutes. They were flustered and continued trying anything they could to get back in it, especially with the bad looks. Give credit to Oregon State, they hit their outside shots and were a problem for Tennessee the entire game inside the paint. The Vols were simply absent from this part of the game.
As the final seconds ran off, the Vols would exit the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a 70-56 loss. But in all honesty, this shouldn’t be very surprising. Tennessee has struggled all season with their offense, especially the over three minute scoring droughts that hampered this team. This group looked overwhelmed and frantic for a good part of the season, which showed on Friday in Indianapolis.
Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer combined for 26 points, while Vescovi had 11. But when you only get 18 points out of your core group of players, you’re bound to have another performance like today.
This team was talented, they had the players, but always seemed to lack the killer instinct. Not having Fulkerson at his best for most of the season did hurt, but the coaching staff should’ve figured out a way to supplement some of his points. You can’t replace a John Fulkerson, but you have to be prepared to, no matter how many guys it takes. Today showed that the Vols still had the same problems they dealt with after the Alabama game earlier this season. No presence in the paint, not even 8 points, will hurt you in the long run.
Now it’s back to the drawing board, trying to figure out what this team looks like in the future. Unfortunately, due to a lot of reasons, we never got to see what this team could really look like with all the talent.