NASHVILLE — At first Friday, everything went in.
Then, nothing went in.
Finally, Tennessee went home.
Alabama evicted the Vols from the SEC tournament, 58-48, at Bridgestone Arena, a day that will be remembered for shots clanging off and shots rimming out, and ultimately — for Tennessee and its fans — a gut shot of disappointment.
“It’s just one of those games,’’ said a forlorn Trae Golden, “where everything looks bad because shots weren’t falling.’’
That’s the universal cliché about basketball. When shots are falling, everything looks good. Every team looks like Sweet 16 material. James Naismith figured that out early on, standing beneath his peach basket.
And it’s a cliché because it’s true.
For the first seven minutes Friday, Tennessee looked terrific. On a momentous day on the NCAA tournament bubble, the Vols looked as if they had risen to the occasion.
Their first shot went in, then their second. When Golden hustled in a rebound basket on a fast break, UT was 7-of-10 from the field and ahead 15-10 on the scoreboard.
The fast start, however, had no legs. It was fool’s gold.
This would be a day the Vols shot themselves out of one tournament and very possibly another.
Alabama’s defense dictated the day. The Tide pressured full-court the entire game, then dropped back into a zone the entire game and dared Tennessee to make shots.
The Vols couldn’t, not with any regularity.
Bottom line: Tennessee shot 32.1 percent overall, 21.7 percent (5-of-23) from 3-point range.
With 12:10 to play, Jordan McRae rose up and stroked a 3-point shot to cut Alabama’s lead to 44-41.
Anything was still possible. A formidable orange presence in an announced crowd of 15,649 was ready to help carry the load and urge the Vols safely into the NCAA bracket that will be revealed Sunday.
But from there until the final horn, Tennessee managed only two field goals and both were transition baskets after Alabama turnovers.
To say it another way, the Vols got zero from their half-court offense in the final 12 minutes.
“I don’t think we’ve ever played that much zone the whole season,’’ said Bama guard Trevor Lacey.
“And our zone is very active. I don’t think we gave them but one or two good looks. We limited them to the shots we wanted them to take.’’
Aside from Josh Richardson, who played a splendid game, there was little help from UT’s other perimeter scorers.
McRae was 3-of-13 from the field, 3-of-8 beyond the arc. He fouled out with nine points.
“Being in foul trouble, in and out, I don’t think that helped,’’ he said. “But that’s my own fault.’’
In those heady early minutes, Golden had four assists and a basket. It would be his only one on a two-point, 1-for-7 day. He added only one more assist in 33 minutes.
“No shots were falling for us,’’ he said. “We weren’t necessarily taking the best shots and it just cost us.’’
Sklyar McBee was 1-of-6, Armani Moore 1-of-5.
“If we make shots,’’ said McBee, “we might get ‘em out of that zone and it might be a totally different ballgame.
“I’m a guy who’s got to knock down some shots. I take full responsibility. I didn’t do my part today.’’
Hardly anyone did. Because of shots missed today, there is no tomorrow, not for the Vols.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.