Charles Dickens once wrote a book titled, A Tale of Two Cities. Rick Barnes and the Tennessee Volunteers could write the follow-up book after the game Tuesday tonight… A Tale of Two Halves.
After a win against Kansas that seemingly righted the ship offensively for Tennessee, the Vols were not able to put together a full 40 minutes in their return to SEC play.
The story of the game directly revolves around the second half collapse from the Vols. Tennessee led Ole Miss 40-31 with 13:09 left in the game after a made three-pointer by Yves Pons. Unfortunately, that was the last field goal Tennessee would hit for the next 12 minutes.
“We lost our aggressiveness,” said head coach Rick Barnes following the game. “We did not protect the ball the way we needed to.”
During the final 13 minutes of the game, Tennessee could not hit a shot regardless of who took what kind of shot. Tennessee’s rotating five were ice cold no matter who was on the court.
Ole Miss outscored the Vols by 12 points during this stretch, just about putting the nail in the coffin for Tennessee.
Keon Johnson finally ended the slide with a three-pointer that closed the deficit to two points with 42 seconds left. After a few missed jump shots on both sides on the court and a wild offensive possession for Tennessee, Johnson was fouled and went to the charity stripe.
Down by two points and with three seconds remaining, Keon Johnson missed his first free throw, effectively ending any last-second hopes for Tennessee.
This game may very well be the most frustrating loss for Tennessee fans this year, simply because Ole Miss is a significantly inferior team to Tennessee.
Or so we thought.
Three-quarters of that game Tennessee looked like a better team than the Rebels. Maybe not “No. 11 vs an unranked 8-8 squad” better, but the Vols had the lead and were playing solid defense.
But once again, it was the offensive woes that slowed the game down to a screeching halt, causing careless turnovers and defensive breakdowns.
Tennessee ended the game shooting 1-of-14 from the field, which showed up in the overall box score. The Vols finished with a dismal 36% from the field and was outmatched by Ole Miss’ 39% shooting. However as bad as the Vols were from the field, they still shot 45% from range.
The most glaring issue in the second half for Tennessee was the inability to close out the game, leading to moments from Tennessee that were baffling to explain.
“We have to be more aggressive,” said Josiah-Jordan James in the locker room after finishing with 10 points and six rebounds. “Tonight we played too timid”.
The game started about as well as one could ask for. Tennessee started their two-star freshmen, Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer, for a second straight game.
Johnson finished with 11 points in the game, and all but two points came in the second half.
Springer, however, had his worst game in his Tennessee uniform. He finished 1-7 from the floor for two points in the game. All things considered though, Springer was only in his second game back after missing the previous two.
“We didn’t have good guard play tonight”, Barnes said after the game. “We talk about consistency, but we’re just not consistent”.
Against Kansas, Tennessee seemingly found their stroke from behind the arc. The Vols shot 61% from deep Saturday night and ended with eight made shots, the third-most in a game this season.
The beginning of the game was trending in the same direction and did until late in the second half for the most part. 24 of the Vols’ 50 points came via the three-point shot. Tennessee did repeat their previous performance with eight made three-pointers, so at least that one aspect is consistent.
The Vols were outrebounded by a total of 37 to 30 on Tuesday. Jordan James led the team with six rebounds on the night.
Tennessee also turned the ball over 16 times. Ole Miss had 17 turnovers on the night, but advantage by one is hardly anything to smile about.
One of the biggest question marks following the game is the play of Tennessee’s poster-boys, John Fulkerson and Yves Pons. Tennessee desperately needs more out of these two, in multiple aspects on the court.
Fulkerson and Pons each totaled four rebounds on the night. Life will be extremely tough for the Vols if their two starting big men cannot have more of a threatening presence down low, even if they are mismatched in size.
“John has played enough by now that he should be consistent”, said Barnes after the game.
The last two weeks for Tennessee has been an absolute whirlwind. Two straight SEC losses, followed by a Top-15 win against Kansas, and then closed out with another loss in SEC play.
Tennessee’s basketball team has problems right now, including a sense of maturity. Those problems were directly seen on the court in Tuesday’s loss.
“It’s really disappointing,” stated Tennessee guard Josiah-Jordan James following the game. “It shows we’re still an immature team”.
Tuesday’s matchup in Oxford was anything but predictable for Tennessee, and really showed the range of talent that this team can (or can’t) portray on any given night.
After dropping three of their last four games, Tennessee will look to rebound once again as they’ll head north to play Kentucky in Lexington this Saturday.
All Images Courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics Communications.