Cuonzo Martin on the 62-50 loss at Alabama
Jarnell Stokes on the 62-50 loss at Alabama
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Tennessee men's basketball team hit a crimson brick wall Saturday afternoon.
It came in the form of a depleted Alabama squad that had its top two scorers suspended and was missing another starter due to an infected wisdom tooth.
Alabama (17-9, 6-6 SEC) scored a 62-50 victory over the Vols (14-13, 6-6) before a sold-out crowd of 12,998 at Coleman Coliseum, snapping UT's four-game win streak.
"One thing I talked to our guys about was that an (Alabama) team this hungry will find a way to win this game,'' UT coach Cuonzo Martin said. "They will come out ready to fight. They will scratch and claw their way to a win, and they did just that from start to finish.''
The Tide used a 20-3 run in the second half to break open a game that was tied at 32-32 with 17 minutes left to play.
Jeronne Maymon led the Vols with 20 points, and Trae Golden had 12. Freshman Trevor Lacy led the Tide with 18 points, and Trevor Releford added 13.
But Alabama's defense was the real key to the game.
UT was forced into 12 of its 17 turnovers in the second half by the athletic and active Alabama defenders, who were seemingly at every turn. Nearly half of the Vols' turnovers came during a 9-minute span during the Tide's pivotal 20-3 surge.
"I didn't think we found the correct way to get past the press,'' said Golden, who had six turnovers. "There were things we needed to do differently ... we weren't aggressive, and that's what you have to do against the press.
"Their run and jump (press) was really effective tonight.''
A Carl Engstrom basket sparked the run at the 16:57 mark, and two Moussa Gueye free throws ended it with 7:51 left and Alabama up 52-35.
Tennessee turned the ball over eight times during the Tide's run and made just one of 13 shot attempts in that span.
When Jarnell Stokes scored on a basket inside with 4:58 left it represented the Vols' first field goal since the 10:12 mark.
"We didn't make shots, that was the big thing, and the press sort of bothered us,'' said Stokes, who had eight points and a team-high eight rebounds. "The double teams were coming (inside) and people were in the passing lanes.''
The Vols' perimeter shooters failed to capitalize on the collapsing defense. Skylar McBee and Cam Tatum each finished 0-for-6 shooting, and UT was a cumulative 4-of-20 (20 percent) shooting beyond the 3-point arc and 15-of-44 (34.1 percent) from the floor.
UT was playing its second game without junior center Kenny Hall, who was suspended indefinitely prior to the Vols' win over Arkansas on Wednesday for conduct detrimental to the team. Martin said freshman Josh Richardson was limited to 15 minutes because of flu-like symptoms.
Hall's presence on the front line was missed as Stokes picked up two quick fouls and played only three minutes of the first half as the Tide finished with a 37-31 advantage on the boards.
Richardson certainly was not in shut-down mode on the perimeter and finished just 0-for-2 shooting in a game that saw only four UT players make a basket.
The Vols weren't as short-handed as Alabama. The Tide was missing first-team All-SEC forward JaMychal Green (14.1 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game) and starting forward Tony Mitchell (13.1 points, seven rebounds), both to suspensions. Nick Jacobs, who had assumed a starting role at forward, was also held out on account of an infected wisdom tooth.
"Once again, it goes to effort style of play-wise,'' said Alabama coach Anthony Grant, whose team had a season-high 15 steals. "Their shots didn't fall and that played well for us on offense and defense.''
Alabama held a 29-25 advantage at the half behind Lacey's 12 points through the first 20 minutes. The Vols' guards couldn't stay in front of the 6-foot-3 freshman, nor did UT challenge him on the back end of the defense.
UT led by as many as five points early when Maymon scored on a put-back basket to cap a 7-0 run and make it 13-8 at the 12:18 mark.
Martin said that Jordan McRae, who had a scary fall during the second half, suffered only bruising and his status isn't expected to be affected. McRae returned to the game after flipping over an Alabama player.
Tennessee returns to action at 7 p.m. Wednesday (TV: CSS) at Thompson-Boling Arena against Ole Miss (15-10, 5-6). The Rebels lost 77-62 at No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32