Mike Strange: Fans' hopes vanish with Vols' defense

Mike Strange
Tennessee fans watch the opening ceremony before the Vols' matchup against the Austin Peay Governors at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011.  Austin Peay won 74-70 over Tennessee.  (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, Adam Brimer

Tennessee fans watch the opening ceremony before the Vols' matchup against the Austin Peay Governors at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011. Austin Peay won 74-70 over Tennessee. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

As the teams left the court Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena, their day's work done, this was the final sound byte:

"Let's go Peay! Let's go Peay! Let's go Peay!''

It was, on a smaller scale, a re-enactment of exit scenes from Neyland Stadium in recent years — Tennessee fans having deserted another defeat, leaving the out-of-town victors to celebrate.

Austin Peay, 74, Tennessee 70.

That result is significant for several reasons.

First, UT fans have to suffer yet another indignity, another assault on their Big Orange pride.

Two weeks to the day after the football season ended in a humiliating loss at Kentucky, another long-standing streak is over.

The Vols had never lost to Austin Peay in eight previous games. They had lost only once in the prior 46 meetings with Ohio Valley

Conference teams, to Tennessee Tech in 1996.

"Losing was never a thought,'' said junior Kenny Hall.

"It's disappointing,'' added guard Skylar McBee. "We did not take care of our business.''

Secondly, I imagine coach Cuonzo Martin's honeymoon is over among a fair portion of Tennessee fans.

Playing competitively but coming up short against ranked teams like Duke, Memphis and Pittsburgh was encouraging. Losing at home to a 1-9 Austin Peay team is 180 degrees from encouraging.

Martin, who replaced the popular Bruce Pearl, came with a reputation as a developer of hard-nosed defenses. Defense, the thinking went, would have to hold down the fort until Martin was able to upgrade Tennessee's firepower through recruiting.

Austin Peay shot 72.7 percent in the second half. From the point at which the Governors trailed 64-53 with 6:27 to play, they were 7-of-7 from the field until the final horn.

"They didn't make any spectacular plays,'' said Hall. "We just had some breakdowns.''

There were breakdowns at the other end, too.

Hall and Jeronne Maymon dominated the first half in the paint, combining for 22 points and 16 rebounds. In the second half they combined for eight points and three rebounds, rarely touching the ball.

Hall, who finished with 12 points and 10 boards, didn't score in the final 18:20. Guards Trae Golden and Cam Tatum were a combined 1-of-15 shooting.

A moment representative of UT's dysfunction came after Austin Peay cut the lead to 70-69.

With 1:27 on the game clock and 6 seconds on the shot clock, point guard Golden was trapped near midcourt. Martin alertly called timeout to prevent an impending turnover. Good move.

So what happened? After play resumed, Hall, a 6-foot-9 center, ended up trapped virtually in the same spot Golden had been, 40 feet from the basket.

UT got a shot-clock violation. Austin Peay went down and made the go-ahead basket.

So Tennessee is 3-5. I sat down for tipoff envisioning a column on how the Vols were embarking on a very winnable stretch of games.

Austin Peay should have been the launch of a six-game winning streak to carry the Vols to Memphis on Jan. 4 with a head of steam. Scratch that idea.

Granted, this was but one afternoon in a long season. Martin hopefully suggested postgame it will be a wake-up call.

Maybe. A five-game winning streak going to Memphis is still in play. Four of the five will be in Thompson-Boling Arena.

But at this point, I wouldn't blame shell-shocked Tennessee fans for expecting the worst. They've seen their share of unhappy endings.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 22

oldster writes:

I hate being lied to.

sambad writes:

Bruce was our Tennessee Pearl. The Tennessee Pearl is the state gem. I'm afraid we went from a Pearl to a bowling ball except our bowling ball is in the gutter and never in the pocket.

wbsmd1 writes:

Martin is so stoic just like Houston was. His team lacks energy.If he had come back Pearl promised to return to relentless full court pressure used in his best years.This is the opposite a passive defense that provides no help with ball penetration. The freshman except Richardson have no business on an SEC basketball team and hurt the team when played. No reason to buy tickets to basketball or football.
Hopefully attendance will force change with emphasis on proven highly compensated coaches equiped to actually compete for elite players. I will make this my last post.

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

Mr. Strange, it is what it is. Tough to stomach, but I can't argue with you on this one. The key for this team will be the next five games, like you said. They need each one of them, just to prove they can take care of business. And they have to bring their A-game to do it. This stretch will show what the Big Orange and CCM are made of. It's bad that UT has to prove themselves against these teams, but they simply have to. Line it up, because these teams are licking their chops.

SoddyVol writes:

Mens BB and football teams continue to be an embarrassment. I hate the comments when I wear my Vols jacket. Maybe I should change the wording to say "Lady Vols Basketball". I live near a lot of Alabama and Georgia fans.

stumpyb writes:

WOW...All things have to end if not now then later. Wait the lady Vols are going to take a whipping a couple of times this year as well and lets see how low you think they have become as well. Fair weather fans we have...as long as we win great team and coaches.....lose a couple coaches and team suck. This is life boys and girls get used to it. How does any team at UT winning help any of us??? It doesn't so take this for what it is a GAME and move on.

FanNotSheep writes:

Cuonzo reminds me of the song by the Fray:

"Everyone knows I'm in over my head, over my head.
Eight seconds left in overtime, you're on my mind
Suddenly I'm becoming part of your past
Becoming the part that won't last.
I'm losing you and it's effortless."

We can only hope this won't last. It might not be quite so bad if Allan Houston were in the lineup. All we got in this deal is a bad coach.

FanNotSheep writes:

in response to stumpyb:

WOW...All things have to end if not now then later. Wait the lady Vols are going to take a whipping a couple of times this year as well and lets see how low you think they have become as well. Fair weather fans we have...as long as we win great team and coaches.....lose a couple coaches and team suck. This is life boys and girls get used to it. How does any team at UT winning help any of us??? It doesn't so take this for what it is a GAME and move on.

Let's see: Pat Summitt has won a million games. Cuonzo Martin has won… the UT coaching job? What else?

In case you were out of the planet yesterday, that was Austin Peay we lost to -- at home. Not Vandy, Kentucky or even Davidson. Austin Peay. Who came in at 1-9.

It's not being a fair weather fan to recognize when a coach is in way, way over his head.

Bruce Pearl came in and took over Buzz Peterson's mess and beat Texas on the road by 17. A team like Austin Peay would not have beaten Pearl at TBA. They likely would not have been able to bring the ball in-bounds.

arkyvol writes:

big orange b.ball returns to irrelevance.

rroney writes:

I am like everyone else, I am very disappointed and embarrassed by this loss, but one thing that stands out for me is our fan support at the games. I don’t know how many on this post actually went to the game, but our crowds are non-existent, I don’t know why are fans will not cheer for our team like everybody else does (ex: Duke, Kentucky). I know we are not as good as these teams, but we will never know because our fans continue not to cheer, when we was up by 11, our crowd was not cheering, even the announcers was talking about how quiet it was and that it seemed like a funeral. We need to move our student section from behind the goal and move them behind the team benches. Most all the other schools have their fans on the side. I believe our players continue to look dead, because our fans are dead. I can’t say very much because I am not able to go to the games because I live in Northwest Tennessee. But the ones who are posting that they will not go to another basketball game and down on our Coach and players, maybe if you would go to the games and actually stand and cheer for our team instead of sitting on your hands, I believe our players would feed off that and would play better. I have not given up on this coaching staff just yet, but please get out and support this team no matter if we win or lose, by not going to the games because we are not playing well, will not help this team. I challenged all the fans and students who read this for our next home game, sell out the gym like we are playing Kentucky or some other big school and actually stand and cheer throughout the game, and I bet you will see a difference in our team, until then please quit writing post being negative about our players and coaches, maybe we should point the blame on ourselves for not cheering at the games. Let’s get out and show our Volunteer pride as I know we can, don’t give up hope on this coach and players just yet. GO VOLS!!!

DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho writes:

in response to stumpyb:

WOW...All things have to end if not now then later. Wait the lady Vols are going to take a whipping a couple of times this year as well and lets see how low you think they have become as well. Fair weather fans we have...as long as we win great team and coaches.....lose a couple coaches and team suck. This is life boys and girls get used to it. How does any team at UT winning help any of us??? It doesn't so take this for what it is a GAME and move on.

I wish I had a job where I earned over a million dollars a year with full benefits and every time I screwed up there'd be some idiot screaming: "It's only a game. It's only a game."

orangiac writes:

Austin We-we? Tennesse does not lose to Austin We-we! What the hell is happening to athletics a Tennessee.

Time is coming when you tell folks that you went to Tennessee that they will respond with something like this. "Oh yeah, I remember them. They used to have some pretty good teams."

orangiac writes:

in response to sambad:

Bruce was our Tennessee Pearl. The Tennessee Pearl is the state gem. I'm afraid we went from a Pearl to a bowling ball except our bowling ball is in the gutter and never in the pocket.

Bruce was a joy to watch. His emotional response to each situation was right on. He was one of a kind. He will not be replaced. It ain't no fun without you Bruce.

stratocaster54 writes:

There were "fans" there? I thought "fans" helped their team and didn't sit on their hands the whole game. Shame on you if you were a "fan" there!

westknoxrepub writes:

To succeed at the University of Tennessee in the capacity of Men's Basketball, you have to be a bit of a showman, as Mears and Pearl have both demonstrated. When Coach Martin doesn't care enough to engage the fans, then doesn't make them excited by bringing in his team of Atlantic Sun All Stars who stand no chance of competing in the SEC. He's not the right fit for this program, and in three years he will be fired, hopefully Pearl will come back, because if not we're in for another 26 years (23 by that time) of meaningless men's basketball. Jim Calhoun still has a job because his AD isn't an idiot.

Classof72 writes:

The coaches at Ole Tennessee,
Are smarter than they used to be,
They lose in a roUT,
And get a buy oUT,
So they are as rich as can be.

volmanohio writes:

If Charleston has that guy that lit us up last year from the outside, UT is in trouble for the next game....

Supersayin1 writes:

Missing Bruce Pearl.. Big time!! It's strange, that everytime fans get on here and scream oust this person for embarrassing the UT name, thats actually pretty good at what they do, we always end up paying for it with getting our Butts whipped, and embarrassed. Fulmer, Pearl, and now they are screaming for Rodgers and Brays head. Maybe those guys should shut up! We are not better off without them!!!! Maybe with the exception of Dooley, he may turn out to be gold!

dcap8424 writes:

in response to FanNotSheep:

Let's see: Pat Summitt has won a million games. Cuonzo Martin has won… the UT coaching job? What else?

In case you were out of the planet yesterday, that was Austin Peay we lost to -- at home. Not Vandy, Kentucky or even Davidson. Austin Peay. Who came in at 1-9.

It's not being a fair weather fan to recognize when a coach is in way, way over his head.

Bruce Pearl came in and took over Buzz Peterson's mess and beat Texas on the road by 17. A team like Austin Peay would not have beaten Pearl at TBA. They likely would not have been able to bring the ball in-bounds.

You do remember Indianapolis beating us last year, right? They were probably better than Austin Peay, but still would consider them a team like Austin Peay.

Still an inexcusable loss, but keep some perspective.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to volmanohio:

If Charleston has that guy that lit us up last year from the outside, UT is in trouble for the next game....

His name was Andrew Goudelock--I think that's how it is spelled--and fortunately for UT he is in the NBA now. Unfortunately for UT, I'm sure they have enough coming back to destroy the weak, selfish, distracted Vol team we saw on Saturday. Let's just hope those clueless turkeys wearing UT jerseys with the names Tatum, Golden, and McRae on the back have disappeared and the REAL players with those names come back from wherever THEY disappeared to, ready to take care of business and wash away the bitter taste left in all our mouths after Saturday's embarrassing debacle.

FanNotSheep writes:

in response to dcap8424:

You do remember Indianapolis beating us last year, right? They were probably better than Austin Peay, but still would consider them a team like Austin Peay.

Still an inexcusable loss, but keep some perspective.

Do you remember beating Kansas, Texas, Pitt, Memphis, Kentucky, etc.?

I do.

Don't think this coach will beat them. Do you?

ACWLY writes:

I think you're right Mike, we are shell shocked and when we look at reality we see no relief in sight. We are looking at several years even getting to the mediocre level in football and I seriously doubt if I will ever see a real good basketball team, I say that because EVERY year for the past 30 years I have thought this might be the year we begin to improve, but its never happened.
Now after two of the most devastating losses in school history many of us are so frustrated and embarrassed that we've become extremely negative toward any and every thing these two coaches are doing.
We have hope that AD HART is a visionary and that he will bring in some quality coaches to get this mess straightened out but then at the same time we hear HE is getting his NC tickets lined up and trying to decide what new BAMA hat to wear.
So SORRY but the negativism continues...

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