Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena was a day for reconnecting.
Allan Houston was bathed in cheers as his No. 20 banner went into the rafters. Wade Houston got a standing ovation of his own.
It was also a day for disconnecting.
To what extent? Well, that’s where it gets tricky.
Tennessee’s 64-58 loss to Kentucky was a disappointing home-court finale for the Vols’ six seniors. It wasn’t, however, an entirely unexpected one. Four of the past five home games have ended on a downer.
In that light, the Vols might be relieved to move on to Atlanta for the SEC tournament. Arkansas on Thursday is the first step toward improving their NCAA tournament stock.
But the guesswork has begun on who might join the seniors’ exodus at season’s end.
Junior Scotty Hopson said Sunday “it didn’t cross my mind’’ that he won’t play in Knoxville again.
We know, however, skipping his senior year to move on to the NBA has crossed his mind. Going 2-of-10 against the Wildcats didn’t help his résumé, but Hopson has played his way into the draft conversation.
Freshman Tobias Harris was UT’s best player Sunday. He might become the program’s first one-and-done.
Or, he might not. Harris’ decision could ultimately hinge on the fate of his coach.
Yes, there’s no guarantee the ball of energy in the orange sports coat will be back on the Tennessee bench next year.
Ever since the September revelation of an NCAA investigation into Bruce Pearl’s program, the university has insisted it wants to keep its coach on board.
Publicly, that hasn’t changed. However, the truth is that we don’t know where the process will take Pearl or the program.
Sunday, for Pearl, was yet another promising day that ended in frustration. There have been too many like that this season.
Before tipoff, he stood proudly with his son Steven for Senior Day ceremonies witnessed by a crowd of 21,678. For the first 20 minutes, he watched his Vols scrap to a 29-22 lead. Perhaps this would be the day the home-court curse was broken.
It was not to be. Kentucky opened the second half with an 18-4 run. Tennessee battled but its offensive deficiencies — and the absence of injured center Brian Williams on the boards — were too much to overcome.
And so, for the fourth consecutive weekend home game, Tennessee came up short in the final minute. This one, though, had a special sting.
“It’s disappointing to get swept by Kentucky,’’ Pearl said. “I do feel it’s a benchmark I should be judged on.
“Obviously, I’ve not done my job in our rivalry with Kentucky.’’
After shaking hands with the coach who swept him, John Calipari, Pearl went into the crowd to shake as many Tennessee hands as he could.
“We’ve got the greatest fans in the country,’’ he said. “The response I got is that they’re still behind us and still believe in us.’’
The crowds have been commendable this season. And Pearl’s players shared his burden of disappointment in not rewarding their loyalty.
“I wish we could go back in time and make a lot of changes,’’ said sophomore Kenny Hall, “but, unfortunately, that’s not the case.
“As a team, we’ve got to move forward and help our fans move along with us.’’
Forward to try to write a positive ending to this season. It could happen yet.
And then forward into an uncertain future with an uncertain cast.