Mike Strange: Outcome always the same

Mike Strange
Tennessee coach Tony Jones tries to rouse the crowd as Florida takes possession of the ball at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011.

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee coach Tony Jones tries to rouse the crowd as Florida takes possession of the ball at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011.

Quick, somebody write a new ending.

Victory eluded Tennessee's basketball team again Tuesday night, just as it has once, twice, three times before.

This time the details were Florida, 81-75, in overtime.

It got to overtime because the Vols can't find a way to make a shot at the end when a game is hanging in the balance.

And because of it, they're 10-6 and in a world of postseason trouble instead of 14-2 and playing for a high seed.

This night at Thompson-Boling Arena, the first 39 minutes and 50 seconds produced a 68-68 tie. Tennessee had a chance to break out of its heartbreak rut.

The rut started at Charlotte on Dec. 17. Cameron Tatum's long 3-point try wasn't a good look and it didn't bring good results. The Vols lost 49-48.

Four days later, back home against Southern Cal, the ball ended up in the hands of Tobias Harris, again far from the basket. Another 3-point miss, another one-point loss, 65-64.

Moving forward to last Saturday, the Vols were in a familiar predicament at Arkansas: trailing 68-65, needing a 3-ball to force overtime.

UT junior Scotty Hopson on Vols' 81-75 OT loss

Harris got the open shot from the corner, but it was rushed and barely grazed iron.

Tuesday night against Florida, at least Tennessee didn't put its fate on a long-range hope.

The Vols had plenty of time to work for a good look. The one they got wasn't bad, but it also wasn't the one you'd draw up on a chalkboard.

Scotty Hopson, the guy who beat Florida with a late shot last year, had a chance to try his luck again this time.

He went on the move as the clock ticked below 10 seconds, then spotted center Brian Williams close to the basket and flipped the pass.

Williams went up and got the close-range shot off but Florida's Alex Tyus went airborne to easily swat it away.

And so, overtime - which went Florida's way once Hopson failed to convert a good-looking drive to give the Vols their first lead since the first half.

The theme in these four winnable endings that got away was that Tennessee didn't seem to get much of a play run to get much of a shot.

The argument for head coach Bruce Pearl's absence being a setback at crunch time is perhaps valid - for the Arkansas and Florida games. But Pearl was there at Charlotte and Southern Cal.

You wonder how things might have been different had Hopson been more involved in these endings.

The one game he was involved did turn out different.

He scored the final nine points, including a game-winning basket with seven seconds left in a 66-65 win over Belmont on Dec. 23.

The final possessions aren't the only culprit in why Tennessee's season is going awry.

The Vols are finding themselves in win-lose finishes because they can't get enough defensive stops on too many other possessions, especially in the second halves of games.

Florida shot 58.3 percent the second half.

Arkansas shot 56.5 percent the second half.

College of Charleston shot 60 percent the second half in a 91-78 win on New Year's Eve.

The Gators, to be fair, can be tough to stop. The Vols aren't the first opponent to find that out.

UT's Melvin Goins had a devil of a time keeping little Erving Walker in front of him all night. Walker caused all kinds of problems penetrating into the lane to score or dish to a teammate.

One of his favorite targets was long, lankly Chandler Parsons, spotted up in the corner where he was 4-of-5 from 3-point range.

Tyus, the Gators' heroic shot-swatter, also exposed another UT defensive problem. His 18 points came on 8-of-12 shooting and much of it at the expense of freshman Tobias Harris.

Just as Arkansas' Marshawn Powell took it to Harris on Saturday, Tyus took it to the rookie Tuesday night.

Whatever all the reasons might be, games seem to wind down to the end with Tennessee teetering on the fence between victory and defeat.

So far, the outcome is always the same.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 39

Tontop12 writes:

Can't blame the coaches because Scotty hasn't been involved in final plays. Defenses scheme to take him away on a final play. We need other players (Harris, goins, fields, tatum, or anyone!) to step up! We look lost puppies out there sometimes, we need a leader ASAP!

OrangePride writes:

Tough game to watch at times. In the second half there was something like 7 or 8 trips down the floor where Tennessee got nada, zip, gaboik. And it seems that when a big shot is needed, it just does not seem to be there. Now beyond all of this, Tennessee might still have won this game had they not missed BOTH foul shots 3 or 4 times. The foul shooting has been woefully inconsistent at times and, in close games, often the difference. So once again, we are just not good enough to pull it off. Long year already, but I will be back rooting for Big Orange Saturday...........hopefully with a different result. GO VOLS.

Tontop12 writes:

We have to get back to being an aggressive team. We are used to being able to dictate tempo and currently we are getting stuck in these half court games. We are are the best when we get up and down the floor and hang on to the ball. Our defensive is lacking, but that can be fixed with effort alone. I look for a big bounce back sat at home vs vandy.

GR82BaTennesseeVOL writes:

I was at this game tonight, and I've seen bad officiating before, but this was probably the worst job I've EVER seen. We got SCREWED.

iowavol writes:

OrangePride, I didn't get to see the game, but based on comments on the other article, yours seems to be the most objective. At least we had a chance, if... But, gaboik???

Gr8, ground hound day mean anything to you? Seems I saw the same post on another article.

thevoice writes:

This team's gonna get scorched this year. No true point guard, no pure shooter, no emotional floor leader, no big nasty, no free throw shooting, no defensive intensity, no playing within a system, no discipline, and I'm starting to think no coach (even after Pearl comes back).

Now for the "too much's..." too selfish, too lazy, too many tattoos, too 3-point minded, too many players in the rotation, too little time left in the season to fix things. Pearl's really leaving an ugly mess for his successor.

Finally, would someone please tell Pearl to run a different play at the end of the game instead of hoping for a T Harris trey to fall?!

VOLDoll writes:

in response to thevoice:

This team's gonna get scorched this year. No true point guard, no pure shooter, no emotional floor leader, no big nasty, no free throw shooting, no defensive intensity, no playing within a system, no discipline, and I'm starting to think no coach (even after Pearl comes back).

Now for the "too much's..." too selfish, too lazy, too many tattoos, too 3-point minded, too many players in the rotation, too little time left in the season to fix things. Pearl's really leaving an ugly mess for his successor.

Finally, would someone please tell Pearl to run a different play at the end of the game instead of hoping for a T Harris trey to fall?!

No doubt about it. CBP has this program in shambles! Its really a shame how bad this program is!

midnite__VOL writes:

in response to thevoice:

This team's gonna get scorched this year. No true point guard, no pure shooter, no emotional floor leader, no big nasty, no free throw shooting, no defensive intensity, no playing within a system, no discipline, and I'm starting to think no coach (even after Pearl comes back).

Now for the "too much's..." too selfish, too lazy, too many tattoos, too 3-point minded, too many players in the rotation, too little time left in the season to fix things. Pearl's really leaving an ugly mess for his successor.

Finally, would someone please tell Pearl to run a different play at the end of the game instead of hoping for a T Harris trey to fall?!

You hit the nail on the head tattoos, get real.

JayGee writes:

Tennessee basketball program, Bruce built it up, and then he tore it down. Not sure he will be here to rebuild it.

zqvol writes:

Poor free throw shooting = Poor coaching

Spending too much time worrying about contracts and not enough time being educators.

eb502us#225637 writes:

I like Pearl but this team is poorly coached. We still haven't figured out how to defend an on-ball screen even with 3 days between games. Tony Jones was clueless last night as to how to stop Florida (hint: try a zone if you can't prevent layups and uncontested 3's) which is why he may never get a head coaching gig.

Goins is killing us at point guard and yet we still run the same flex offense that doesn't take advantage of our height at (Hopson, Tatum).

Folks, until Pearl changes things, we will continue to lose and its a damn shame because this team has plenty of talent.

nola_vol writes:

There's a lot of "magic" in great teams. Skilled personnel don't make a team great; neither do depth, size, or a diversity of individual talents.The personnel CBP inherited when he came to UT didn't have much that this current group possesses, but in his system that group found magic—and became a great TEAM.

In his development as a head coach, it's easy to guess CBP spent years dreaming of what he could do if he had better talent, given what his "lesser" teams were accomplishing.

Now, in his evolution as a major program head coach, possibly CBP is now discovering (by their absence) the intangibles which allow less gifted players to become better teams. Then again, maybe he already knows what those intangibles are—and simply hasn't been able to land enough recruits who possess them.

Great teams catch lightning in a bottle. About the best that coaches can do is generate lots of static electricity in practice and align their positives & negatives in the most advantageous manner at gametime.

As it says in Ecclesiastes "The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability..."

In basketball, more so than in football, better players do not so easily translate into better teams. Maybe if CBP can pick up a few more players with Harris' intangibles...?

(Well, that AND an ankle-breaker point guard who can hit the three!)

Biggie writes:

in response to GR82BaTennesseeVOL:

I was at this game tonight, and I've seen bad officiating before, but this was probably the worst job I've EVER seen. We got SCREWED.

That's the excuse Georgia always uses, NOT UT!

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

the game is online at espn3.com, if you have that.

I'm not encouraged at all. we are WAY predictable. we never attack early in the shotclock, and defensively?? the worst team bruce has fielded...and I mean mentally, not physically.

It can turn, but we might not make the ncaa's or if we do, it's with a terrible seed.

we've shown we can really flat play when all works, but it doesn't take much to get us off track.

Col26ca writes:

in response to Biggie:

That's the excuse Georgia always uses, NOT UT!

I have played, coached and officated. On any given night at least 1 of the 3 groups are not at top form. Great teams will always pull through, good teams normally pull through, it remains to be seen if we are a good team or just average as it is starting to look. As a Kentucky born and raised UT grad I do know my basketball from baby bottle on and it's my believe that without some real on the floor leadership game in game out we will have hugh issues through the end of the season. Go VOLS and wishing for a turnaround. NO EXCUSES.

LEXKYVOLS writes:

in response to JayGee:

Tennessee basketball program, Bruce built it up, and then he tore it down. Not sure he will be here to rebuild it.

Could not have said it better - Pearl had everything he ever dreamed of - ESPN on his side, son playing for his dad, school support, fan support, respect. . .

And then one day he decided to have a few kids over for a BBQ when he knew it was wrong and then to make matters worse, he lied to the NCAA.

I am, excuse me, was a big fan of Pearl. Now I am only a fan of the University of Tennessee. As for Pearl, he has to win back the trust and respect of the players, media and fans. I am not sure this can ever be done but I hope he proves me wrong.

As for ESPN, as I said last night on the live blog, it looks like they are trying hard to turn the fans against Pearl and it looks as if they are being very successful. But they will never turn me against THE University of Tennessee. GO VOLS!

196SVol writes:

There WAS a good team on the other side of the court with a DARN good coach!

AlpharettaVol writes:

It seems that in every game the opponent puts a guy in the corner who is allowed to shoot open threes all night. In the last five minutes we gave them 3 or 4 of those kind of shots when we didn't have a defender within 10 feet of him. Also, those 4-5 free throws we missed at the end of the game were clearly a factor in us losing the game. It's disappointing for Vol fans who have been so excited about basketball since Coach Pearl came to Tennessee and now see it taking several steps backward and looking like it will continue in that direction.

bigdisbig writes:

When is Brian Williams gonna man up and become a man on the court? This guy is 6'10 and plays like he is 6'. TAKE THE BALL TO THE HOOP BRIAN!!! For God's sake do you not realize you are as big as anyone you play against? Instead of that little pathetic hook shot that never goes down how about attacking the rim like a man??? Put the ball in the hoop or let the guy foul you!! Does Pearl not know how to coach a big man?
First off...you STAY NEAR THE FREAKING GOAL!
You can't help the team by hanging outside the 3 point arc when we are on offense.
Learn to dribble a couple of times...back your defender up and go for the stuff man! You should be in doubble figures every game Brian. You are allowing your defenders to play you like a cheap harmonica. When it comes to rebounding I seriously doubt you are going to get many rebounds AWAY FROM THE GOAL DUDE!!

I watched this game and when UT has the ball there are 4 guys outside the 3 point line. Pearl has these guys thinking 3 point shots and that is why we have very few put backs.

Pearl.....go back to the basics of basketball. What is wrong with you man? You have talent but can't coach it. The Bruce Pearl of 4 years ago would have this team in the top 5 nationally. These guys are NOT inferior players.....they are just being coached by an inferior coach who has become a JACK WAGON FOR SOME REASON. Pearl....get off the pitty wagon, man up and start looking at your team instead of yourself and the mess you have made of your life. ITS TIME TO GET OVER IT!!

GreerVol22 writes:

Anybody else tired of seeing a better group of players lose? I'm not sure I care if Bruce comes back...odd saying that.

ETNTigerFan writes:

Just an observation from being at the game last night. In the first half I noticed two or three times when Goins had the ball and the other four players were completely standing still. I don't mean loafing around, I mean completely still. Hopson and Williams were two of the player but I can't remember the others.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to nola_vol:

There's a lot of "magic" in great teams. Skilled personnel don't make a team great; neither do depth, size, or a diversity of individual talents.The personnel CBP inherited when he came to UT didn't have much that this current group possesses, but in his system that group found magic—and became a great TEAM.

In his development as a head coach, it's easy to guess CBP spent years dreaming of what he could do if he had better talent, given what his "lesser" teams were accomplishing.

Now, in his evolution as a major program head coach, possibly CBP is now discovering (by their absence) the intangibles which allow less gifted players to become better teams. Then again, maybe he already knows what those intangibles are—and simply hasn't been able to land enough recruits who possess them.

Great teams catch lightning in a bottle. About the best that coaches can do is generate lots of static electricity in practice and align their positives & negatives in the most advantageous manner at gametime.

As it says in Ecclesiastes "The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability..."

In basketball, more so than in football, better players do not so easily translate into better teams. Maybe if CBP can pick up a few more players with Harris' intangibles...?

(Well, that AND an ankle-breaker point guard who can hit the three!)

Great post! These days, especially, talented players--or, perhaps more to the point, players who THINK they are talented--seem to think they can do it all by themselves. All too often our offense seems to consist more of successive individual attempts at shots or drives than it does of working together to get the best shot for the team. Players who are suitably modest in estimating their individual ability KNOW they have to work together to succeed.

In his earlier years, both before coming to UT and the first few years here, CBP seemed to know how to get less-talented teams to buy in to the team concept. Since he has been here, he has tried to recruit the same kind of guys everybody else wants, i.e., the "multi-star" guys who often have the kind of delusions of individual grandeur that I suggested above. Clearly, that kind of player requires different handling than less-talented over-achievers. Coaching at a major-conference school brings with it an expectation from the fans that the coach recruit "big-name" players, whether they truly fit a coherent system or not. A Coach K at Duke can recruit big-time players who are ALSO willing to subordinate themselves to the team concept. Most other truly successful coaches consciously recruit players who fit their systems, even if they are not house-hold names in the recruiting-junkie world. CBP either needs to learn how to handle the "multi-star" guys he gets or go back to recruiting over-achievers who are willing and able to play within his system.

doubledeuce22Q writes:

I am very disappointed in this team. They are lazy and have no passion for the game. I have been a season ticket holder for years, but it is now to the point where I don't want to go because I know a disappointment is coming. This team (with the exception of 2 or 3 games) has underachieved all year long, starting with the exibition games. I have never been one of those that is perfectly fine as long as we win...we have been dissapointing in the bulk of our wins. I would 100% rather see McBee, Bone, McRae, Pearl, and Fields on the floor hustling and trying than these entitled-minded kids standing on one end of the floor watching the other team get fast break lay-ups and then arguing with each other about it on the floor. We HAD something special at Tennessee...it came in the form of Watson, Lofton, Smith (JaJuan), Bradshaw, and Chism. These guys were leaders and talented, sure...but they played with pure passion and gave it 110% every time they touched that floor. They did this because they earned every right to be playing on that floor and because they were not entitled to anything. They were scrappy and a joy to watch. I was proud to call those guys MY team from MY school. Pearl also was scrappy at one point in time...then he 'made it'. It is appearent to me now that he also feels entitled. I bleed orange and live and breathe UT...that is why this is so difficult to swallow.

murrayvol writes:

in response to smokey65:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

So's the thrill.

esarmstrong#231516 writes:

in response to VOLDoll:

No doubt about it. CBP has this program in shambles! Its really a shame how bad this program is!

As hard as it is to believe, less than one year from reaching the elite 8, you could argue this program is poised to be in its worst position ever. Especially with looming NCAA sanctions, something that has never happened in UT b-ball history.

budd#207344 writes:

The team is not poorly coached. They just don't listen. Poor defense and poor free throw shooting equals a loss every time. If they would defend consistently and not just when they need to get back into a game they would reduce these opponents 50+% shooting nights. And if they could make 75% of their free throws as a team they wouldn't have to defend so hard. No excuse for Goins, Hopson, Harris, or Tatum to ever miss a free throw. Williams need to be made to shoot 25 at the end of each practice and run laps if he missed more than 5.

byrd_fan11 writes:

Can't depend on favorable refereening or hot three point shooting. Should expect at least 60% freethrow shooting and good defense.

Can anybody explain the "intracacies" of the offensive scheme that BP talked about?

How about getting Golden more involved?

TNVol71 writes:

I really miss the days of the go for it all defenses we had when CBP first arrived. It seems each year that we presumably get better shooters, but we have yet to put the defensive intensity of those first few years back on the floor. We need someone to step up and be the Dane Bradshaw of this group. I still love the Vols, but this has been a very frustrating season as a fan. Keep going hard team and let's get this current losing trend to lesser teams reversed!! GBO!!

JRamsey74 writes:

Tony Jones doesn't know the appropriate time to call a time out. He uses a time out right after TN causes a turnover and steals the ball...way to kill the momentum, there. Then, why didn't he use a time out before the end of regulation to set up a scoring play? Instead, he lets Goins dribble in the corner and then doesn't have a shot before time runs out. This team has no discipline or leadership. They need to focus on the fundamentals, making good passes and making their free throws. Fans, stop looking for people to blame. It's not ESPN's fault or the ref's fault. Our players need to step up and play some ball.

byrd_fan11 writes:

Basketball is basically a game of give and go. Screen and cut to basket, drive the lane and dish off or dish out, three or five man weave, etc. It is a game of movement without the ball and advancing the ball toward the basket. Play it on offense and expect it on defense.

byrd_fan11 writes:

Develop Golden. Change Hopson's name from Scotty to Spotty.

kazoo writes:

The basic problem is defense. This team is very soft on defense, and that's why it is losing. Arkansas shot 50 percent for the game--and 56 percent in the second half. Florida shot 53 percent for the game--and 58 percent in the second half. Same thing in other games. Those are PATHETIC numbers. You can't let a team make half of its shots and win--PERIOD. When the Vols start playing tough defense, they'll win. Not until....

kazoo writes:

in response to doubledeuce22Q:

I am very disappointed in this team. They are lazy and have no passion for the game. I have been a season ticket holder for years, but it is now to the point where I don't want to go because I know a disappointment is coming. This team (with the exception of 2 or 3 games) has underachieved all year long, starting with the exibition games. I have never been one of those that is perfectly fine as long as we win...we have been dissapointing in the bulk of our wins. I would 100% rather see McBee, Bone, McRae, Pearl, and Fields on the floor hustling and trying than these entitled-minded kids standing on one end of the floor watching the other team get fast break lay-ups and then arguing with each other about it on the floor. We HAD something special at Tennessee...it came in the form of Watson, Lofton, Smith (JaJuan), Bradshaw, and Chism. These guys were leaders and talented, sure...but they played with pure passion and gave it 110% every time they touched that floor. They did this because they earned every right to be playing on that floor and because they were not entitled to anything. They were scrappy and a joy to watch. I was proud to call those guys MY team from MY school. Pearl also was scrappy at one point in time...then he 'made it'. It is appearent to me now that he also feels entitled. I bleed orange and live and breathe UT...that is why this is so difficult to swallow.

Agree: This group is mostly lazy on defense, not very smart, or both--probably both. You gotta get after it on defense to win games--that's how coach K built Duke into a powerhouse--with defense. This team is soft. Teams are making more than half their shots against us regularly--that is B-A-D.

MusicCityVol writes:

Defense is the problem. It has led to slowed offense. That has been the same with or without Pearl....

http://checkerboardchatter.blogspot.c...

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to GR82BaTennesseeVOL:

I was at this game tonight, and I've seen bad officiating before, but this was probably the worst job I've EVER seen. We got SCREWED.

Not why we lost! They were hot we were not! they played D We played ME!!! No passing from the point! No defensive intensity anywhere. Lacking some basic defensive skills. Goins, one of our best on D, got left standing several times. Scotty was by far our best player last night. Harris ok on offense but got lost some on D. Fields and Brian either one couldn't stop Tyus...but who can really? We should have at least tried a zone some... Man to man at times just isn't working. If our offense would control the tempo better our man to man might work. We're not good against good guards(Pitt yeah)...again.

volnknox writes:

this team is done! I hate to be negative but lets face it, we just don't have it this year when we should be a top 10 team with the talent we have now. Its depressing to think that if we have great talent ( 2 NBA future players) and still struggle.

james#216392 writes:

No one has mentioned the time out interview Jones gave to ESPN. Is he trying to get a job somewhere? Why would you leave you team during a timeout to talk to ESPN. Does he not care if we win? In the OT, he looked like a deer in headlights. I suggest we hire Bobby Knight for the next 6 SEC games. Jones is a big disappointment. I had never seen anyone do an interview in the middle of a game. unbelieveable. What did his players think?

esarmstrong#231516 writes:

in response to james#216392:

No one has mentioned the time out interview Jones gave to ESPN. Is he trying to get a job somewhere? Why would you leave you team during a timeout to talk to ESPN. Does he not care if we win? In the OT, he looked like a deer in headlights. I suggest we hire Bobby Knight for the next 6 SEC games. Jones is a big disappointment. I had never seen anyone do an interview in the middle of a game. unbelieveable. What did his players think?

Actually, I think Donovan did the same thing during this game during a timeout right before he went into huddle with the team. Another way ESPN is sticking its nose in and messing around with a game. Isn't it enough that they do that ridiculous quickie interview of coaches when they are leaving the court (or field in the case of football) at halftime?

dead_vol_foul (Inactive) writes:

jesus, get off the godd2m suicide watch and the "I hate Pearl" rants.

we are playing bad ball for the really, really obvious reason that we DO NOT have JP and Wayne, and Hopson's leadership is spotty at best.

You guys hate Pearl?? What the hell ever. I had quite enough of Buzz ball, of Houston-ball, of doing noting since, basically, EVER.

Bruce did a stupid, dlck thing.

But, hey, let's hash it out again and again and again.

Too, maybe some of you need to pay attention to the little fact that coaching changes have a HUGE chance of failure.

So, screw it. I'm for Bruce to work through this. You want to give up on him?? I don't really give a rat's butt.

I don't have that many years left, I really, really do NOT want to start over again with this program.

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