Mike Strange: Ghosts of games past haunt Vols

Mike Strange
Tennessee forward Tobias Harris reacts to a foul called on him during the game against Alabama at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011.  Harris had four fouls during the Vols loss 65-60 to the Crimson Tide during overtime.

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee forward Tobias Harris reacts to a foul called on him during the game against Alabama at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011. Harris had four fouls during the Vols loss 65-60 to the Crimson Tide during overtime.

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.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6726. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2011 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Related Links

Comments » 5

TennVol01 writes:

Disheartening finish for true fans. You can never get used to overtime losses. It only hurts more each time. It was a very long drive home. This loss could be the nail in the coffin for the opportunity to play in the big dance in March.

johnlg00 writes:

Groundhog Day. Deju-vu all over again. It's a shame to realize that the Vols are about 10 points away from the top-10, but might have to pull a couple of upsets to avoid a double-digit seeding in the NCAA.

The guys just have to realize that EVERY possession counts. You just CAN'T be loose with the ball. You just CAN'T fail to make a defensive rotation. You just CAN'T throw a hope-and-pray pass. You just CAN'T fail to secure a defensive rebound. Fundamentals are called that for a REASON. They are BASIC for what you hope to accomplish on the court. You CAN'T take them for granted.

Notice I didn't even mention free-throws or shooting. These, too, are basic fundamentals, but sometimes the ball goes in the basket and sometimes it doesn't. Besides developing a sound basic shooting style and not taking stupid shots, you can't control whether it goes in or not. Those other things I mentioned are things you CAN control. Executed properly, they give you a chance to win even when the shots aren't falling.

Oddly enough, even if they lose the next two, as bad as that will hurt, they still won't be dead for the season if they can avoid losing more than one more after those. But these next two games are CRITICAL in developing the mindset that will get the REST of them and push them through to a decent seed.

BigVolinCarolina writes:

The common thread in these games is the fact that we seem to have tunnel vision and take a low percentage, desperation shot due to poor play execution (or play calling). We needed a 3 in the Arkansas loss, but we seem to run the clock down only to make a poor decision and take a bad outside shot.

Hardly anyone ever seems willing to drive to the basket for a closer shot that'll give you a decent chance for a tip-in or put back. I don't know.

hueypilot writes:

Is it just me or does Tobias Harris seem like a step slow to rotate on defense. Seen it happen time and again and while we need his offense, if he can't rotate off the ball screen or switch quickly enough, he becomes the weak point where offenses will attack time and time again.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to hueypilot:

Is it just me or does Tobias Harris seem like a step slow to rotate on defense. Seen it happen time and again and while we need his offense, if he can't rotate off the ball screen or switch quickly enough, he becomes the weak point where offenses will attack time and time again.

Williams is a little slow rotating, too, though he has been a bit better on that lately. What the guys don't think about is that when an offensive perimeter player is looking to penetrate, the help-side defender should take a quick step into the potential driving lane BEFORE the guy starts to turn the corner. If he is looking to drive and sees a help defender in his intended path, he isn't going to TRY that drive. It doesn't require the helper to sell out completely, just to take a quick step away so he doesn't lose track of his own man. The most effective defense is the one that constantly forces the offensive player to do something BESIDES the first thing he wants to do. You keep them off-balance, give them a different look at what is before them, constantly force THEM to adjust instead of trying to REACT to what THEY want to do. The more such adjustments you force them to make, the more chance they have to throw the ball away or use up the shot clock before having to take a desperation heave.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features