Occupying the Thompson-Boling Arena media room for 10 lonesome, galling minutes before teammate Jarnell Stokes entered and attracted some attention, Jordan McRae sat encircled by cameras and microphones Wednesday night.
Things aren't playing out how the junior guard would have planned.
And he was left answering for Tennessee men's basketball.
McRae scored a personal-best 26 points two games ago, a total he matched Wednesday in a 92-74 loss to Ole Miss, the same game he returned to a starting role. Yet, two of the first words out of his mouth surrounded by reporters were "embarrassed" and "mad."
"Everyone is really disappointed in how we are playing," he said, slumped. "The thing about it is, is that we are really disappointed in ourselves. It is on us, not on anyone else."
McRae has found himself in an unenviable position. The best play in his
career has coexisted with back-to-back losses against a rival (Memphis) and a SEC foe (Ole Miss) in the conference opener.
"I would rather go back to scoring eight or nine points and winning than this," McRae said.
The Vols, uniformly, would prefer anything opposed to their 8-6 record (0-1 SEC).
The combined 177 points they surrendered to Memphis and Ole Miss are the most since Gonzaga and Kansas teamed up to score 181 on UT in 2009.
Meanwhile, for McRae, his combined 52 points in the two games are the most by a UT player since 2011. Back then, Scotty Hopson scored 55 combined against South Carolina and Georgia.
Playing at least 30 minutes in five of the last six games, McRae has averaged 16.7 points on 34-of-73 (46.6) shooting. More noticeably, he's cemented himself in coach Cuonzo Martin's starting lineup after coming off the bench in 32 of UT's last 33 games dating back to last season.
"I'm just doing whatever the team needs me to do — shooting open shots, getting to the line," said McRae, who now leads the Vols in scoring at 12.7 points per game. "I still feel like Jarnell (Stokes) is the No. 1 guy for us and it's going to continue to be like that."
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy might say otherwise. McRae was the only Vol to impact Wednesday's meeting from the perimeter. Skylar McBee, whom McRae has replaced as a starter; Trae Golden, Josh Richardson and Derek Reese combined to make 10 of 33 shots, including four of 17 3-point shots.
McRae made eight of 14 from the field, three of eight 3-pointers.
"He's a good basketball player," Kennedy said. "He's long, he's athletic, he's got an ability to slither through traffic. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he slithers through traffic. And when he's making jump shots ... he's made eight over two games, he's hard to guard."
Which is why McRae will stay right where he is — in the UT starting lineup.
"Jordan's earned his way on so he deserves to start," Martin said.
Now the team's results needs to match McRae's elevated play.
Next up for the Vols is a trip to Alabama for a Saturday afternoon date with the Tide (8-6, 0-1). McRae was 2-for-8 from the field in a 62-50 loss in Tuscaloosa last year.
"We are not going to think about (Ole Miss) anymore after Thursday," McRae said "We are going to learn from it, and probably watch film on it, but then it is on to the next one."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn