UT coach Tony Jones on Alabama loss
The ghosts of lost opportunities past returned to haunt Tennessee at a most inopportune time Saturday.
With surprising Alabama and a crowd of 21,948 in the house for a basketball game with SEC championship implications, several of the Vols' imperfect moments came flooding back to bite them.
The Vols' 65-60 overtime loss to the Crimson Tide had multiple doses of déjà vu from this up-and-down-and-up-again season.
At the end of regulation, with the score 55-55, UT replayed the Florida scenario.
You recall that one: The Vols have a chance to dance off the court with a last-second victory but can't knock down a shot at the buzzer. Then they come up flat in overtime.
"We just didn't make a play at the end,'' lamented acting head coach Tony Jones. "To win a game like this you need someone to step up and make a play.''
That's four games - Charlotte, Southern Cal, Florida and now Alabama - where someone couldn't step up and make a game-winning play.
A game-winning play was required for several reasons.
For one, when it came to shooting the basketball, Tennessee revisited Charlotte.
The Vols were 22-of-63 from the field for 34.9 percent against the Tide, matching a season-low and perfectly duplicating the numbers from the 49-48 loss at Charlotte, down to the last clanged jumper.
Granted, Alabama is a terrific defensive team, ranked No. 2 nationally in field goal percentage defense. But 34.9 percent? On your home court?
"If we come up with a few offensive baskets at the end, we win the game,'' UT guard Skylar McBee said. "They just didn't fall.''
None of 'em fell for point guard Melvin Goins.
He was 0-for-7, including a 3-point try to win at the end of regulation and then another trey in overtime after the Vols had claimed a 57-55 lead and could have taken control.
Goins is 3-of-19 in UT's past three games. He and backup Trae Golden were outscored 13-2 by Alabama freshman point guard Trevor Releford.
For another thing, turnovers. The Vols gave it away 18 times, the most since Arkansas, another loss when an extra possession or two might have tipped the game into the win column.
"Four turnovers myself,'' said freshman forward Tobias Harris. "That's just not like me.
"They speed up the game and got us a little rattled.''
Especially near the end of the first half. Alabama was up 34-26 when it produced consecutive turnovers before UT could get the ball to midcourt and raced to convert baskets each time.
And that conjures up another ghost - Vanderbilt.
The Commodores came into Thompson-Boling Arena last month and ran off to a 17-point lead in the first half. The Vols were able to overcome that one and win at the end. Not so Saturday.
Alabama led 38-27 at the break, after shooting 66.7 percent in a first half that included five dunks.
"A team comes in our house and shoots almost 70 percent,'' said UT's Cam Tatum. "That's embarrassing.''
Maybe the Vols lacked a little energy because of the quick turn-around from playing a late game at Auburn on Thursday night.
Hey, another ghost. The last time the Vols had less than 48 hours to recover was between UT Martin and College of Charleston. The latter didn't work out so well. Something like 91-78.
"It's tough,'' said McBee, "but we're not gonna use that as an excuse.''
Things don't get any easier. UT's toughest week of the SEC season awaits - at Kentucky on Tuesday and then at Florida on Saturday. The game in Rupp will be Tennessee's third in six days.
On the plus side, Bruce Pearl will be back on the bench and Scotty Hopson might be back in the lineup.
Still, it's a week that's frightening enough at face value. Better not take along any ghosts.