The 25th-ranked Lady Vols were unable to overcome Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter’s career game in a 73-71 loss to the 16th-ranked Aggies in Knoxville on Sunday.
Texas A&M (20-5, 8-4 SEC) made just one field goal in the fourth quarter. It was all the Aggies would need, however, as the No. 16 team in the country still scored 20 points in the frame courtesy of 17 made free throws. Tennessee (17-8, 7-5 SEC) outscored Texas A&M 24-20 over the final 10 minutes, but because of its inability to defend without fouling, the Aggies closed out the game on the free throw line.
“I think after a close game, you can pick up a stat sheet and find many areas that you could’ve won the game,” Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper said following the game. “It’s easy to do.
“The other side is, I’m proud of our effort. I thought it was one of our best games in terms of 40 minutes of effort. I think we can build on that. You’ve just got to clean up some of those stat sheet items. You’ve got to keep giving focus and effort like that and give yourself a chance.”
Sophomore Rae Burrell led the Lady Vols with 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting, while Rennia Davis chipped in 18 points on 7-for-16 shooting to go along with six rebounds and five assists. Burrell started her third career game for the Lady Vols. After Sunday’s performance, she’s now the team’s second-leading scorer at 10.2 points per game.
The Lady Vols trailed Texas A&M 36-30 at the half. Tennessee shot 40.6 percent from the field but was unable to slow down the Aggies on the defensive end. A&M shot 45.2 percent overall, 66.7 percent from three, and 85.7 percent from the free throw line.
Here are our three observations from the Lady Vols’ loss to the Aggies.
Too Much Chennedy Carter
Following the game, Burrell claimed that the Texas A&M star flopped too much. But that wasn’t at all the case. Carter is simply one of the best players in the SEC, and the Lady Vols couldn’t slow her down regardless of who was defending her. Burrell just happened to be one of her victims.
Carter finished with 37 points on 10-for-22 shooting and 3-for-5 from three. She was 14-for-16 from the free throw line while pulling down five rebounds, picking up three steals, and tallying two assists in 36 minutes.
“We went zone, and I think a lot of the time we were not aware of where she was,” Davis said. “Even if we were, I don’t think we connected on a lot of the defensive stops that we could have got on her, just as far as knowing where she was and knowing that we had to bump off a bit quicker or just get here a little bit faster.”
Free Throws and Turnovers
Tennessee has gotten better about limiting turnovers. But the Lady Vols are still not where they need to be, and Sunday’s game was yet another example.
“We watch film,” Harper explained. “We try to help teach. We run for every turnover in practice. We try to focus on it, do a lot.
“At some point, it’s just stepping out there and taking care of the basketball. I get that we’re never going to be spot-free. We’re not going to have zero, but we’ve just got to cut down two apiece (between Burrell and Jordan Horston). It’s a big deal.”
Burrell turned the basketball over five times, and Horston turned it over a team-high six times. As a team, the Lady Vols turned it over on 16 different occasions. Those 16 turnovers led to 19 points for Texas A&M.
Tennessee didn’t help itself at the free throw line either. As a team, the Lady Vols were 6-for-16 from the charity stripe. Freshman Tamari Key was 1-for-6 and Burrell was 3-for-6. Jaiden McCoy was 0-for-2 as UT missed 10 free throws in a two-point loss.
“I don’t think it’s anything fundamental,” Harper said of the free throw struggles. “It’s just a lack of focus. You miss a couple, and then you start worrying about them.
“I think we’ve got players that can make free throws. They do it consistently in practice. When you get in a big game like this, you’ve just got to focus, have confidence, step up there, and knock them down.”
On the flip side of Tennessee’s free throw struggles, Texas A&M was 28-for-33 from the free throw line for the game.
Lady Vol Fans Show Up and Show Out
Free throws and turnovers were an issue against Texas A&M, but fan support was not.
Sunday’s attendance of 12,738 is the largest Lady Vol crowd since the 2017-18 season. It’s the third audience of 10,000 or more this season, an increase over the 2018-19 season that saw no games with an attendance greater than 10,000.
“My pre-game speech was about the crowd,” Harper said. “It was about using them, letting them push you further and help you. (The crowd) was awesome. What a great environment for a big-time game. And that’s what this was today, and that’s what these players signed up for. That’s Tennessee basketball; that was fun.”
Tennessee now hits the road for a date with Arkansas (20-5, 8-4 SEC) on Thursday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET in Fayetteville. The Lady Vols will then return home on Sunday to face Vanderbilt (13-11, 3-8 SEC) at noon.