Bruce Pearl had a long drive down Interstate 75 back to Knoxville on Saturday afternoon to reflect on the Tennessee basketball season that ended Friday in Dayton, Ohio.
The rest of the ongoing NCAA tournament was the farthest thing from the Tennessee's coach's mind.
"I can not watch it; it's too difficult, it's too painful,'' Pearl said. "I haven't lost a first-round NCAA tournament game since (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) lost to Notre Dame on a last-second shot (70-69, 2003).
"I wasn't ready for it to be over, and our guys felt that way, too.''
The Vols finished 21-13, winning the SEC East Division for the third time in four years, and reached the SEC tournament championship game for the first time since 1990.
Pearl said he was proud of the Vols' effort Friday in a 77-75 loss to Oklahoma State (23-11) in the East Region, but he quickly picked apart facets of subpar execution.
"When you play a team that's 19th in the RPI and fifth in schedule strength, you have to play great to advance,'' said Pearl, who has guided the Vols to the NCAA tournament each of his four years as UT's coach. "I thought we played good. We by no means laid an egg; we showed up to play, and we played hard.''
The Vols were 24-of-56 (42.9 percent) shooting against Oklahoma State, making 11 of 33 of their attempts beyond the arc and 13 of 24 within it.
"We needed to play better defensively,'' Pearl said, "and we needed to get more two-point baskets; guys driving to the basket and the rim out of spacing.''
Cowboys senior point guard Byron Eaton accounted for 20 points, including the game-winning three-point play with 7.2 seconds remaining.
Pearl said he knew Eaton and the Oklahoma State perimeter shooters would be a tough cover - they shot 38 percent from 3-point range during the season - but he was disappointed with the Vols' inability to defend effectively in the lane.
"What Eaton did didn't surprise me, but what Marshall Moses did, that did surprise me,'' Pearl said, referring to the Cowboys' 6-foot-6, 235-pound sophomore post. "That was disappointing. We did a good job defensively on all of them except him.''
Moses was 8-of-10 shooting for 16 points and pulled down 11 rebounds as Oklahoma State shot 56.5 percent - the second highest UT yielded this season.
"The experience we gained this year will really help us,'' Pearl said. "We'll start again in a week.''