OXFORD, Miss. — Tennessee needs a closer to bring in out of the bullpen and get the ground-out to end the game.
The Vols need that sure-footed veteran who can trot out on the field and boot the ball dead between the uprights from 40 yards as the clock hits zeroes.
Excuse the mixed-sports metaphors, but I don't know how else to describe what's missing from this UT basketball team.
You want a team that can go in a hostile arena and fight the good fight, call the Vols.
But if you want a team that makes the winning plays at crunch time, well, call somebody else.
"The good part is putting yourself into position,'' UT coach Cuonzo Martin said. "Now, you've got to do it.''
That's what Martin said Thursday night after the Vols pushed No. 23 Ole Miss to the limit before losing 62-56.
Or, maybe he said it last Tuesday at Rupp Arena, where Tennessee gave Kentucky a surprisingly tough time.
Or, he could have said it at Alabama four games back after the Tide rallied to escape with a 68-65 win.
The Vols are 1-4 in SEC play. They won one big and lost one big. The other three were there for the taking. Tennessee couldn't take any of the three.
The one they lost big was to these same Rebels, 15 days ago in Knoxville.
The predictable script was for a similar sequel Thursday night. Ole Miss came into a rocking, socking, sold-out Tad Smith Coliseum riding a seven-game winning streak into the Top 25.
Yet the Vols grabbed the nation's third-best scoring team (82.4 points a game) by the shorts and dictated a plodding tempo.
UT led 25-18 at the half.
"It was a boring first half,'' said Marshall Henderson, the Rebels' mercurial triggerman, "nobody was scoring.
"That's how they win games.''
UT still led 31-24 with 16 minutes to play, and 50-44 when Jarnell Stokes converted a three-point play with 7:02 on the clock.
"We knew it was going to be a fist fight,'' said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy.
But the Rebels have a knock-out punch and the Vols don't.
That's why Ole Miss is streaking toward an NCAA tournament bid and UT is angling for a repeat NIT engagement.
The Vols deserve much credit for their resilience. They lost their lead in the second half and got it back again. Then they stumbled while Ole Miss went on a 9-0 run for a 58-53 lead.
They weren't done yet.
Jordan McRae's 3-point bucket made it a 58-56 game and, moments later, he went to the free-throw stripe with two chances to forge a tie.
The burden of carrying his team finally was too much. An excellent free-throw shooter, 11-of-12 on the night thus far, McRae missed both tries.
The Vols got four more possessions — four! — in a position to tie the game but came up blank on every one.
Thus, the hump is still there, waiting to be gotten over.
Perhaps the Vols should take heart in the words of their tormentor, Henderson, who scored 24 of his 28 points in the second half.
He was 0-for-4 on 3-point tries in the first half, then ripped in six treys in the second.
"All it takes is one,'' Henderson said. "All I need to see is it go through the net one time.
"Then it comes.''
Tennessee is still waiting for that first one.