Much like the weather outside of Thompson-Boling Arena, the No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers had to endure a deluge in the second half against Alabama.
After leading by as many as 15 points, the Vols led 44-32 at the half. Tennessee shot 60 percent from the field and had a very balanced attack in the first half. Seven players scored four points or more, led by Grant Williams with 12. Kyle Alexander was the most disruptive for the first twenty minutes of the game. The senior had six points, five rebounds and four blocks at intermission.
The Tide rolled in and the storm opened up to begin the second half. John Petty led all scorers with 30 points off the bench. He began the half on an 8-0 scoring spree that coincided with a 13-0 run by Alabama in the opening minutes. Three and-a-half minutes into the half, the Vols found themselves with their first deficit of the game.
In contrast to Tennessee’s first half, the Crimson Tide were unbalanced. 27 of Alabama’s 32 first half points came from three players. Along with Petty, Dante Hall and Kira Lewis, Jr. were the antagonists. That trend continued in the second half. The three combined for 58 of Alabama’s 68 points.
The Vols withstood the Tide in the second half by taking care of the ball. After committing six turnovers in the first half, Tennessee only gave up three in the second. They also saw their shooting percentage plummet. After an impressive shooting display to open up the game, the Vols shot 29.4 percent in the last twenty minutes. They were also out-rebounded 41 to 36.
“As much as I hate to say it, we were fortunate to win this game. We needed a game like this. We will see what we can learn from this,” Vols head coach Rick Barnes said postgame.
“A year ago, we found ways to win defensively, and that’s what we did in the last couple minutes tonight,” Barnes added.
Alexander wasn’t able to dominate the final twenty minutes as he did the first. Hall provided the toughest match-up for the Canadian this season by going for 16 points and 12 rebounds. The Alabama forward held the Vols’ senior scoreless in the second half. Alexander and Admiral Schofield led Tennessee in rebounding with nine and 11, respectively.
Physical prowess is something that was missing from the Vols on Saturday. Despite leading the team in scoring with 21, Williams tallied just two rebounds. The junior came up with the biggest one with just under a minute remaining and parlayed the grab into a bucket to give the Vols a 69-66 lead. On the previous possession, Williams blocked a 3-point attempt from Petty that created a turnover.
What started out as a bright day for the Vols quickly developed into a storm. By taking care of the ball and getting key plays from their leader in the final moments, Tennessee was able to overcome the Tide 71-68.
Between now and the next time Tennessee takes the court, there could be a major change to the ranking beside its name. “We have a chance to be No. 1. Tennessee basketball hasn’t been ranked No. 1 in a long time. That’s a good feeling, but we can’t be so locked in on that,” Jordan Bowden said.
Williams had his own thoughts to give on the prospect of a potential No. 1 ranking come Monday:
Grant Williams: My goal here is to hang banners, not worry about where we’re ranked halfway through the season.
— @GrantRamey (@GrantRamey) January 19, 2019
“We have to continue to stay hungry. We can’t be so focused on that. It’s so fleeting. It can change really quick.”
Next up, the Vols travel to Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville to take on Vanderbilt on Wednesday at 7 p.m.