Another last-second missed shot meant another heartbreaking loss for the Tennessee men’s basketball team Tuesday night.
Vols freshman Tobias Harris misfired on a 3-point attempt at the buzzer after UT came out of a timeout with 3.5 seconds remaining.
The Southern Cal Trojans marched out of Thompson-Boling Arena with their first road win of the season, 65-64, before a stunned crowd of 19,030.
“It was a very disappointing loss,’’ said Vols coach Bruce Pearl, who has lost three consecutive games for the second time in his six-year tenure and the first time in nearly four years.
Tennessee (7-3) battled back from the largest deficit it has faced this season, down 10 points on two occasions, and had a chance to win after USC (7-5) missed a shot with nine seconds left.
Tatum rebounded a miss by USC’s Maurice Jones’ and brought the ball up the floor before dishing to Goins near midcourt.
Goins, however, was trapped, and fed it back to Tatum who also had nowhere to go. Tatum called a timeout with 3.5 seconds left.
Tatum said he got an eerie feeling when he looked at the clock: The Vols were down one at Charlotte on Friday when they called timeout before Tatum missed the potential game-winner at the buzzer in that 49-48 defeat.
“I looked at the clock, and I didn’t put my head down,’’ Tatum said, “but I saw déjà vu all over again.’’
Tatum’s vision came to fruition when USC coach Kevin O’Neill anticipated the Vols going to Harris for the last shot, and put one of his quickest defenders on the UT power forward.
“If we had another timeout, seeing how they guarded it,’’ Pearl said, “I probably would’ve called another timeout in that situation because of the quickness they had on Tobias.’’
The Vols used Scotty Hopson as a decoy, flaring him out with hopes Harris’ defender would leave him.
When that didn’t happen, Harris was forced to get the ball further away from the basket and settled for a 27-footer that went off the back of the rim.
“We wanted them to catch the ball going toward our bench, which we were fortunate enough to be able to do,’’ said O’Neill, whose Trojans handed UT a 77-55 beating in Los Angeles last season. “We just said, let’s make sure it’s got to be a contested shot.’’
O’Neill, a former Vols coach who was greeted with a smattering of boos, was impressed with UT’s effort.
“Their intensity tonight was on the highest level I’ve seen in (UT’s last) three games,’’ he said. “It looked like the way they played at Pittsburgh and against Villanova.’’
Defensively, perhaps; the Vols out-rebounded USC 38-23 and contained its leading scorer, Nikola Vucevic. UT held the 6-foot-10 Vucevic to four points and one rebound — well-below his season averages of 16.2 points and 10.4 rebounds.
The Vols struggled once again from the perimeter, making only 4-of-15 beyond the arc.
But UTs biggest problem Tuesday was its lack of offensive continuity. The Trojans forced 18 turnovers.
“They had 27 points off 18 turnovers, and that’s probably what killed us,’’ Pearl said. “When we went to the basket, they stripped and ripped us way too often. Too many passes to the post players got deflected. We need to work on making the pass either to feed the post or to get the ball on time or on target to somebody.’’
Southern Cal became the first team this season to lead the Vols at intermission, taking a 38-32 lead into the half.
The Trojans went up 46-36 in the second half on a Maurice Jones 3-pointer with 15:56 left, and he struck again with a trey at the 11:38 mark to make it 51-43 before the Vols made a run.
Scotty Hopson made his only field goal of a night with 11:04 left to spark an 8-0 run that Tatum capped with a drive to make it 51-51 with 8:20 remaining. The lead changes hands three times after that.
The Vols’ final lead came with 5:14 left when Harris drove for a basket, and the Trojans took the lead for good on an Alex Stepheson (13 points) basket with 3:44 left that made it 61-59.
UT drew to within one, 65-64, when Goins hit a pair of free throws with 47.2 seconds left.
The Trojans ran the clock down before Maurice Jones missed with nine seconds left, setting the final play into motion.
“We’re just down and disappointed in the way we finished, closing out games,’’ Harris said, unaware that the Vols dropped to 125-13 under Pearl when leading or tied with five minutes remaining. “The losing needs to stop right now.’’
UT returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Thompson-Boling Arena against Belmont (9-2) (TV: SportSouth, MyVLT).