ROCHESTER, Mich. — It was another Grizzly finish for Tennessee against mid-major power Oakland University.
The venue changed but the result was the same for the Vols, as they fell to the two-time defending Summit League champion Golden Grizzlies, 89-81, on Monday night at the O'rena. Oakland beat then-No. 7 Tennessee 89-82 in Knoxville last season.
A standing-room-only crowd of 3,755 made up largely of a fired-up student body greeted UT (3-3) as the Golden Grizzlies made the program's first national appearance on an ESPN network.
Oakland (4-2) led from the opening jump, and for the first time this season the Vols failed to hold a lead at any point in the game.
“There was a lot of energy in the building, and they made shots early and got a lot of confidence,'' UT coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I felt like we were on our heels early.''
Oakland senior Reggie Hamilton did most of the damage, scoring a career-high 35 points — including 15 of 15 from the free-throw line. The Vols' guards struggled to stay in front of Hamilton throughout the action.
Martin recruited Hamilton when he was coach at Missouri State and warned his players about the dangerous guard from Chicago.
“I told the guys, if we don't stay on him, this is a guy that can beat you,'' Martin said. “I thought he played great tonight. You try to make him work, but he was still running his team. They weren't forcing shots.''
Jordan McRae led the Vols with 25 points, Cam Tatum had 19 and Trae Golden added 12.
“Jordan did a good job on offense, being aggressive and attacking the lane,'' Martin said. “He did a good job on defense as well.''
The Golden Grizzlies (4-2) led by as many as 14 points in the first half before UT closed the half on a 9-2 run to pull to 39-32 at intermission.
The Vols pulled within four when Golden hit a trey to open second half, but the Grizzlies built the lead back up to 10, going up 61-51 on a Travis Bader (13 points) 3-pointer at the 10:08 mark.
UT rallied when a McRae 3-pointer sparked an 8-1 run that Kenny Hall capped with a put-back basket to make it 62-59 with 8:28 left.
That was as close as the Vols could get, as Oakland went 14 for 14 from the free-throw line over the final 2:20.
“This game was about our program; that crowd wasn't going to let us lose,'' said Grizzlies coach Greg Kampe, who ditched his trademark sweater vest to wear a suit he had tailored specially for the ESPNU game. “I know we expected to win, too, because I don't think we should ever lose in our building.''
Oakland, which has won 41 of its past 43 home games, out-rebounded the Vols 41-37. UT power forward Jeronne Maymon was held to eight points and six rebounds while making two of seven free throws.
Maymon suffered a lightly sprained ankle in the Vols' 99-97 double-overtime loss to Memphis on Tuesday, and only played two minutes in UT's win over Chaminade on Wednesday before sitting out Saturday's practice.
“I thought Jeronne was fine,'' Martin said. “I didn't think we did a very good job with our boxouts.''
The Vols return to action at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena against No. 17 Pittsburgh (5-1).