Mike Strange: One more basket, one more free throw would have helped

Mike Strange
Georgia celebrates a 57-53 victory over Tennessee in an NCAA college basketball game at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Athens Banner-Herald, Richard Hamm)

Georgia celebrates a 57-53 victory over Tennessee in an NCAA college basketball game at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Athens Banner-Herald, Richard Hamm)

ATHENS, Ga. — If it turns out Tennessee's basketball season amounts to anything, the Vols will look back on this one and groan.

In fact, don't hold back. Go ahead and groan now.

Road wins, especially SEC road wins, are a precious commodity. They're sometimes measured in kruggerands.

For 40 minutes Wednesday night, however, Georgia was offering one for the taking.

"Go ahead, help yourself," the Bulldogs seemed to be saying, brick after brick, turnover after turnover.

"Nah, we're good," replied Tennessee, answering a brick with a brick, a turnover with a turnover.

Its hospitality refused to the point of overtime, Georgia was insulted enough to just go ahead and win the darn thing.

Thus, Georgia's 57-53 victory goes in the book as a blown opportunity for the Vols, who are still in search of their first road win of any kind under coach Cuonzo Martin.

Since SEC play began, Tennessee is a model of consistency. It plays to the level of its competition ev

ery night.

For three games against ranked teams— Florida, Mississippi State and Kentucky — the Vols were scrappy on defense and reasonably efficient on offense.

They proved they can play up a notch. Now UT has proved it can play down a notch.

Georgia reported to venerable Stegeman Coliseum 0-3 in SEC play. And for good reason. The Bulldogs aren't exceptional at anything since last year's stars, Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, abandoned Athens for the NBA.

Even in its own diminished state, this was relatively low-hanging fruit for Tennessee. The Vols had won six of their past seven visits to Stegeman and under three different coaches, Buzz Peterson, Bruce Pearl and Tony Jones.

Martin will have to wait and try again next year.

"This game really showed the character of both teams,'' said Georgia coach Mark Fox. "We both played really hard.''

It also showed the deficiencies of both teams.

The Vols shot 40 percent from the field. On a night when one more basket, one more free throw even, would have delivered the goods, they could not produce.

They were 2-of-15 from 3-point range and had several good looks in the waning minutes of regulation. If that's forgivable, a season-low 50 percent (7-of-14) at the free-throw stripe isn't.

"That's one we needed,'' said junior guard Skylar McBee. "We played well enough defensively to get the win.''

Fair enough. Georgia looked as if it had never seen its own rims, shooting 34.9 percent from the field and 2-of-19 beyond the arc. So a pat on the back for Tennessee's defense.

But the Vols were dreadful at the other end of the court.

"It's tough when you turn the ball over like that,'' said Martin. "You don't give yourself a chance to win.''

They turned it over 20 times. They dropped passes out of bounds and threw passes out of bounds.

Martin said Monday turnovers were his biggest concern. Brother, he wasn't kidding.

When Jarnell Stokes scored seven points in an 8-0 UT rally the Vols looked up and had a 40-35 lead.

"I thought the game was in our hands,'' said point guard Trae Golden.

We've already established it was a bad night for Tennessee's hands. The Vols turned it over on two of their next four possessions and it was 40-40 again.

Regulation ended 46-46. There was no Brian Williams with a buzzer-beating rebound basket this time when Golden's off-balance shot missed the mark.

UT led 50-48 in overtime, then a Golden turnover set up Georgia's basket to get even.

A McBee 3-pointer shocked both teams and gave UT a 53-52 lead. The Vols got a stop and a chance to go for the jugular. Instead a Cameron Tatum turnover opened the door for Georgia.

The Bulldogs cashed in with a four-point possession that featured two offensive rebounds and that, it turned out, was that.

It was all over but the groaning.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 17

seofeed writes:

Bad loss and ugly to boot. All the lunatics (not referring to you Mike) need to remember this was supposed to be a rebuilding year anyway. Bruce was looking at a completely revamped roster. Cuonzo is looking at a new team with a completely revamped roster.

VOLinATL writes:

It was there for the taking...arrgh!

jowemedo writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Everyone knows that last years team should have been better than 19-15. Was it bad coaching by Bruce or was it all the turmoil surrounding the team? Hamilton definitely contributed to the 30 point blowout to end the season. Obviously the players Bruce left behind have not panned out.

huntined#565710 writes:

When it was 40 to 35 TENN. lead they shot some sorry shots and turned the ball over. Also GA was faster down the floor then TENN. Don't know why we try a short shot when we were down THREE!! When the score is even this team shoots a three and when they are down three they shoot a TWO??? T.O. and missed foul shots and short easy baskets cost them this game.

hikerdude writes:

I hope Skylar wasn't including himself in lauding the defense. He left his jock strap on the floor on several occasions. And Woolridge reverted to form, didn't he? Bad,bad.

CoverOrange writes:

I don't care what anyone says about defense wins championships. Without a serviceable offense you're not going to win games. Pearl's teams barely played defense but won a lot of games. The Chief had a great defense in 2008 but the football team lost a lot of games anyway. This team can play offense, they just don't practice it enough.

VolinCalif writes:

Well it is what it is. Bit I still say UT needs to work on the inside game. I saw five turnovers in a row on missed shots. Two were inside shots three were three points. We were ahead at that point 40 -36 I think.Ga caught up and went ahead to stay. You have to make points if you want to win, love the three but it is a lot better if you force the other team to try those shots. Oh well I was to small to really play this game but I do love it and I gave it my best effort.

Red_October writes:

They don't know how to win. Look at all the close games this year that we've lost. I just don't understand how you can play Kentucky like you did (and Florida) and can't beat a team like Georgia. And don't even get me started on only scoring 46 points. They should have scrored 46 in the FIRST HALF!

*The above statements are just my opinion and do not reflect the thoughts or actions of the University of Tennessee or any of it's staff, coaches or players"

johnlg00 writes:

in response to huntined#565710:

When it was 40 to 35 TENN. lead they shot some sorry shots and turned the ball over. Also GA was faster down the floor then TENN. Don't know why we try a short shot when we were down THREE!! When the score is even this team shoots a three and when they are down three they shoot a TWO??? T.O. and missed foul shots and short easy baskets cost them this game.

These are just a few examples of this team's inability to THINK the game. As a player, Martin was a heady player who made the most of his ability. Few of the current Vols are doing that consistently. Of course, most of LAST year's Vols, many of whom are playing now, didn't do that either.

On more than one occasion I noticed that the perimeter players were overplaying their men to force them to go a particular direction, usually to their left. This is fine IF the help defenders are alert to help when the player DOES go that way. In fact, it can and should result in a blunted drive at the least and a double-team on the baseline at best. Several times the help defender didn't even seem to notice how the primary defender was playing his man and if they rotated at all to where they should have been, they were late. In the first half especially, the culprit was often Stokes. He has the excuse of being a freshman playing his first game on the road and his second college game ever, but the other big men, who should surely know better by now, too often made the same mistake.

Another prime example, as you said, was the failure of the big men to SPRINT down-court after UGA gained possession, as often as not following a Vol turnover. That gave the Dawgs a number of easy scores that were easily the difference in a game where buckets were worth their weight in gold.

Yet another was a play in the second half where Golden was trying to pass the ball to Tatum on the left wing. A UGA defender got his hand on the ball about halfway between Golden and Tatum, at least 10-15 feet from Tatum. Cam looked at the ball, SAW that a Dawg defender had touched it, and then reached out for it with a one-hand stab, whereupon it trickled off his hand out of bounds. Again, in a game where the team is not scoring easily and is turning it over regularly, you just CAN'T squander possessions that way.

I could go on and on, but you don't want to read it and I don't want to dwell on it. All I can say further is that it must be extremely frustrating to watch for a coach who preaches the fundamentals. I think his tough-minded attitude WILL become habitual in time, and we have seen some instances of headier play in some of the recent games, but not soon enough to save this season.

brokebackvol writes:

No other way to put it - last night was a real stinker - get out the clothespin for your nose!

geraldodell#1377039 writes:

Once again just like the Lady Vols, we cant seem to make free throws down the stretch. You're right Mike, one more free throw in regulation and we win. It doesnt take a rocket scientist when you shoot free throws as poorly as both the women and men do, you are going to lose in tight games. No excuses please for our inability to shoot unguarded shots and make at least 65%. You snooze, you lose.

Razor784 writes:

Buzzball is back, we can't seem to win a close game against a quality opponent. I thought this team could be decent this year, but they're mediocre at best.

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

Until we can find a quarterback (PG) we will see this type of game the rest of this year. In crunch time, our guard play is ridiculous. We should make it a point to pull Tatum and Golden when there are only 3 min. left in any close game.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I'll try to say this briefer than my last post. The habit I am mostly talking about is THINKING THE GAME THROUGH. I could give countless examples, but the main principle is that there is ALWAYS something POSITIVE a smart player can do EVERY SECOND he is on the floor to help the team win. The players generally DO dive on the floor, but they haven't always put themselves in positions where they are READY to dive on the floor. They don't give sufficient attention to what might happen NEXT in a given situation. At the very least, it is about limiting the damage that MAY occur rather than always reacting to what HAS occurred. If you are interested enough to suggest some game situations, I will say what I mean in some detail, but I don't want to bore anybody with the long and excessively technical explanations I am all too prone to offer unsolicited. I really HAVE thought a lot about this, and if I weren't so lazy and didn't think anybody would be interested in hearing my thoughts on it, I would write a book. Some might say I already have!

murrayvol writes:

It really is a shame to work so damn hard and accomplish so little.

The box score tells you all you need to know.

VolunteerLifer writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I'll try to say this briefer than my last post. The habit I am mostly talking about is THINKING THE GAME THROUGH. I could give countless examples, but the main principle is that there is ALWAYS something POSITIVE a smart player can do EVERY SECOND he is on the floor to help the team win. The players generally DO dive on the floor, but they haven't always put themselves in positions where they are READY to dive on the floor. They don't give sufficient attention to what might happen NEXT in a given situation. At the very least, it is about limiting the damage that MAY occur rather than always reacting to what HAS occurred. If you are interested enough to suggest some game situations, I will say what I mean in some detail, but I don't want to bore anybody with the long and excessively technical explanations I am all too prone to offer unsolicited. I really HAVE thought a lot about this, and if I weren't so lazy and didn't think anybody would be interested in hearing my thoughts on it, I would write a book. Some might say I already have!

I get you. To a certain extent, not anticipating what is about to happen (like Bird, Magic, etc) is a matter of inexperience. I hope that is the case with Golden, McRae, and all the other sophomores and freshmen, and that they'll get smarter. For Tatum and some upper classmen, it aint inexperience, so I hesitate to speculate what it could be. After a while, if your experienced guys are not getting it done and seem not to be able to get it done, its time to make personnel changes to get ready for next year. I expect to see that next if we continue to blow close games and continue to lose.

scvols writes:

Just when you think this team can be good, they show you they can't.

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