NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s run at the SEC Tournament came to a close Friday afternoon as Missouri earned its second win over the Vols this season in a 79-71 thriller at Bridgestone Arena.
Here’s three quick takeaways as Tennessee falls to Missouri.
Tennessee Survives First Half Foul Trouble
Josiah-Jordan James said Tennessee will go as far as its veterans take them following the Ole Miss game. James and Santiago Vescovi are definitively the two most important Vols on the court considering Zakai Zeigler’s season ending knee injury.
Both spent large parts of the first half on the bench after picking up two fouls, forcing Tennessee’s offense up against the wall.
Josiah-Jordan James was called for a soft technical foul after getting mixed up Missouri guard DeAndre Gholston. It was James second foul and sent him to the bench for the final 8:27 of the first half.
Vescovi was fantastic offensively for Tennessee early, making three of his first four three-point attempts with the one miss rattling in-and-out. But the possession after Vescovi hit his third triple, the senior got too close to a three-point shooter and picked up his second foul.
That led to both Vescovi and James being on the bench for the final 5:20 of the first half. It created a poor offensive lineup and Tennessee promptly went on a four-plus minute scoring drought.
But the Vols’ did just enough to not only stay in the game but maintain the lead. Tennessee’s defense was extremely crucial, but so was an Olivier Nkamhoua three-pointer and a near half court shot by Jahmai Mashack to end the half.
Tennessee led by just two following the free throws after Vescovi picked up his second foul. Undermanned, Tennessee went into halftime leading by three.
Role Players Step Up For Tennessee
The Vols are leaning on their role players more down the stretch of the season, mostly for offensive production.
Many of those role players stepped up and gave Tennessee massive boosts on that side of the end. No one did more than Jahmai Mashack. The defensive stopper was fantastic on the offensive side of the court against the Tigers, totaling 14 points on five-of-eight shooting from the field.
Mashack also dished out four assists.
Fellow guard Tyreke Key got his offensive game going, especially in the second half as Missouri was gaining momentum. Key — who scored a season-high 23 points against Missouri in the regular season — hit two three-pointers and also had some success in transition on his way to a 16 point performance in the semifinals.
Julian Phillips and Olivier Nkamhoua are a little more than just role players but they also gave Tennessee solid contributions. Phillips tallied 10 points while Nkamhoua added 11. Both players have not been consistent deep threats this season, however, both made triples against the Tigers.
Nkamhoua was also fantastic on the glass where he totaled 10 rebounds to complete the double-double.
Tennessee needed role players to step up, especially with James and Vescovi’s foul trouble. They got it from a handful of guys, most notably Mashack and Key.
Missouri Controls Winning Time
A consistent theme for Tennessee basketball this season is struggling in winning times of games not at Thompson-Boling Arena. That continued against Missouri as the Tigers made big shots down the stretch and Tennessee did not.
Missouri guard Nick Honor was fantastic, slipping past Josiah-Jordan James for a layup before drilling a deep three to give the Tigers a three-point lead late. When Tennessee turned it over on the ensuing inbounds pass, D’Moi Hodge drilled a triple to extend Missouri’s lead to six points and put the Vols in a minor hole with just over a minute to play.
On the other side, Tennessee made just two field goals in the final six minutes of the game and struggled to hit the big shots it needed to win the tight game.
Without Zeigler, Tennessee is a poor end of game team. It showed up again against Missouri Friday afternoon.
Tennessee’s run at the SEC Tournament is over. The Vols now await their draw in the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA selection show is at 6 p.m. ET Sunday night.