CHARLOTTSVILLE, Va. — Standing outside the Tennessee locker room Wednesday night, point guard Trae Golden searched for words. His eyes were shrouded under a hooded sweatshirt cinched tightly around his face.
At this point, everyone wants to hide from the embarrassment of back-to-back sub-40 point outings.
This time it was Virginia taking advantage of UT’s lifeless offense. The Vols (4-3) shot 28.8 percent, again squandered a strong defensive performance and left here with a 46-38 loss.
The game came on the heels of a 37-36 loss at Georgetown on Friday.
“It sounds easier than it is, but we just have to score,” lamented Golden. “That’s what we have to do.”
And that’s precisely what Tennessee hasn’t done in shooting a combined 43-of-148 (29.1 percent) in its three losses this season.
Despite the stench of Wednesday’s 15-for-52 shooting performance, the Vols had opportunities to steal a road win.
After an 11-0 run built a 36-21 Virginia lead with 14 minutes, 7 seconds remaining, UT responded with a 12-2 answer to trail by just five.
Then the offense stalled, again.
Five straight possessions produced nothing.
The Vols made two field goals over the final 7:41 and the game well within reach.
“I thought we were going to come back, but we just couldn’t convert,” said Golden, the lone UT player to finish in double figures with 11 points.
This coming after no UT player eclipsed single digits against Georgetown.
Jarnell Stokes was silenced for the second game in a row. Playing again without frontcourt mate Jeronne Maymon (knee), he scored five points on five shots in 27 minutes. Since scoring 18 points on eight field-goal attempts against Oakland, Stokes has produced only nine points on eight shots in his last 56 minutes of action.
“They did a good job of sagging and doubling (Stokes), but we’ve got to find a way to get him more looks,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said.
Virginia (7-2), which shot 19-for-53 in the game, could hardly stretch its lead, offering UT a fighting chance.
The Vols trailed by six with 1:26 left and by four with 36.6 seconds remaining.
Virginia’s Tevin Jones scored his only two points of the night on a pair of late free throws to all but seal the Cavaliers’ sixth straight win. Juniors Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris led the Cavaliers with 13 points apiece.
“It looked great to me,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said of the ugly affair. “I’ll take it.”
The Cavaliers built their 25-16 halftime lead with plenty of help from the Vols. UT shot 8-for-25 from field, 0-for-8 on 3-pointers, 0-for-2 on free throws and committed nine turnovers.
It was UT’s fourth half of the year under 20 points, but Martin’s team looked poised for a bounce back to open the second half.
Golden opened it with UT’s first free throws of the game. Skylar McBee followed with the team’s first 3-pointer.
Virginia’s 11-0 run then ensued.
The Vols’ empty holster couldn’t gun them back into it.
“You hold a team to 46 points on their home floor and you defend the way you defend, you feel like you can win a ballgame,” Martin said. “It was the same way in the last game. ... You’ve got to be able to make open looks.”
Relief is on the way in the form of eight days off followed by six straight home games. Bruised egos and a broken offense need tending to.
The Vols will meet undefeated and 24th-ranked Wichita State (8-0) when they return to Thompson-Boling Arena on Dec. 13.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn