The gates are down. The walls have been breached. They're storming the castle.
Thompson-Boling Arena is no longer the impregnable fortress of Tennessee basketball.
LSU skipped off the floor with a 79-73 win Wednesday night. By this point, it wasn't exactly a stunner.
When we rang in 2009, the Vols were riding a 37-game home winning streak that stretched over 2 1/2 seasons. Juniors Wayne Chism and Josh Tabb had never lost at home.
A poet once said April is the cruelest month. Bruce Pearl might beg to differ.
Tennessee's January is in a tailspin. LSU was the fourth loss in the past five home games.
It started with Gonzaga in overtime, then Kentucky in a Jodie Meeks-inspired romp.
Memphis was another close one that got away. Now, LSU.
How far back do you have to go in UT hoops history to find that kind of Homeland Insecurity?
Sound like Buzz Ball?
Go back even farther.
A mystifying late-season Jerry Green era fade?
Try 1994-95. Kevin O'Neill's first season.
The Vols were starting over at ground zero after the 5-22 season that showed Wade Houston to the door. Between Jan. 22 and Feb. 18 that winter, Tennessee lost five in a row at home, to Florida, Alabama, LSU, Kentucky and Mississippi State.
It didn't seem terribly out of the ordinary then. It does now.
From the time Pearl coached his first game in November 2005, Thompson-Boling became unfriendly to visitors.
For the past couple of years, you just didn't come in the Vols' house and leave with a win.
Not even the Florida Gators, on their way to winning back-to-back national championships.
Not if you were a household name, like Texas or Memphis.
Now, well, they're storming the castle.
"You look at the records, you look at the programs coming in,'' said Pearl.
"Gonzaga, Kentucky, Memphis. LSU's only lost four games. It's a good team.''
Wednesday night it was the better team.
In the first half, LSU thoroughly outplayed - and outhustled - the Vols. Tennessee was fortunate to be down only 43-38 at the break after watching the Tigers shoot 57 percent and win the boards 19-9.
The Vols gave a better account in the final 20 minutes. But they didn't shut the gate.
"We've got to battle,'' said Chism. "Everybody's out for our heads.''
Speaking of heads, Pearl said Tennessee's inexperience is showing in late-game crunch-time situations.
In particular, Tennessee's inability to execute and convert a clutch basket against a tight half-court defense is showing.
Tyler Smith had his worst game Wednesday night. Emmanuel Negedu had his best. Unfortunately for UT, that wasn't an even swap.
Smith accounted for five of Tennessee's 12 turnovers. Three were bunched in LSU's 13-2 run that established a 59-45 lead with 14:26 to play.
Negedu, the freshman from Nigeria, was instrumental in UT's rally, finishing with 11 points in only 15 minutes.
"That was great to see from a freshman,'' said Pearl.
Perhaps Negedu's supermodel pal, Sports Illustrated cover girl Marissa Miller, can find her way from California for a few more games.
Alas, it's not a practical solution to what ails the Vols.
Once the Vols nudged in front 69-67, Smith had two more turnovers.
The most damaging came with 36 seconds to play with LSU leading 76-73. Smith drove the baseline from the right wing but stepped on the out-of-bounds line under the basket while looking to make a pass.
Next possession, with UT down by four, freshman Scotty Hopson threw a pass to the nearest LSU defender.
That was the official signal for the mass exodus.
"I know it makes our crowd upset that we're losing here at home,'' said Chism.
"Our crowd's just got to stay with us and believe we can pull stuff out here at home.''
They'll find out soon enough. Florida is due Saturday night.
"Another good team coming in,'' said Pearl.
Another good team coming in and knowing a win is no longer a lost cause.
Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.