An usher turned to the media-types behind him and wondered aloud if the Thompson-Boling Arena scoreboard was fully functional Tuesday night.
His concern could be traced to the "12" beside Tennessee and the blank space next to Vanderbilt about five minutes into the game.
Not to worry, though. The athletic department won't have to dip into its depleted surplus fund to fix a scoreboard.
The scoreboard was working. The Commodores weren't.
In fact, Tennessee's 12-0 start was achieved so easily, another question arose: Could this be a laugher?
The question itself was laughable 35 minutes of game time later as Vanderbilt missed two shots from point-blank range and handed UT a 58-57 SEC victory.
From a 12-0 start to what was almost a last-second defeat, the journey was at least familiar to the Vols, who improved their record to 11-8.
They don't do laughers. They struggle. They grind. And if the opponent is as accommodating as Vanderbilt was, they prevail.
The outcome merely confirmed what so many of the first 18 games did. Seldom will anything come easy for the Vols.
No matter how hard they might play or how relentlessly they might defend, a 12-0 start won't necessarily enable them to run away from even the least capable of their conference opponents.
The offense isn't dependable enough for that.
UT's most dependable offensive player proved unreliable on this evening. Jordan McRae, the SEC's second-leading scorer in conference play, made two of 10 shots from the field and finished with seven points.
On an average night, that might have been disastrous. But Skylar McBee snapped out of a prolonged shooting slump with three 3-pointers in five attempts, and Jarnell Stokes often overpowered the smaller Commodores on his way to a game-high 19 points.
No other Vol scored more than six points. That's UT's offense.
No wonder, Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said, "Those wins are taking a toll on me."
And no wonder, he never expected the early, easy 12-0 advantage would lead to anything other than an exhausting finish.
Vanderbilt vs Tennessee, Jan. 30, 2013
"Any rival game, it doesn't matter the score, the situation, the personnel," he said. "There's a lot of fight.
"I knew those guys wouldn't roll over. They run that Princeton-style offense. Not something you normally see.
"Three games in six days, I was impressed at how (his team) competed."
The schedule has been exacerbated by the demands of a coach who might as well have "effort" emblazoned on his forehead.
"Playing three games in six days is tough on
anybody, especially the way Coach Martin wants you to play," McBee said. "Playing as hard as you can play the whole time you are out there."
If the Vols had played three times in six weeks, it's unlikely the game would have followed a different course. They won the previous game in the final seconds against Alabama. They lost the game before that in the final minutes against Ole Miss.
The first five minutes of the Vanderbilt game suggested there would be no suspense in the last five minutes. But UT's games just aren't that easy.
Win or lose, they take their toll.