Tennessee got Robert Morrissed on Wednesday night, without bothering with a trip to Robert Morris.
As a result, the Vols won’t have to bother with a trip to Provo, either.
Substitute Mercer for Robert Morris. Substitute the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena for a bandbox in Pittsburgh.
The National Invitation Tournament has turned out to be a humbling event for a couple of dejected NCAA tournament wanna-bes from the SEC.
Tennessee fans enjoyed seeing Kentucky get dumped from the NIT Tuesday night at the aforementioned bandbox.
But what went around came around Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling.
Mercer’s Bears pulled the postseason rug out from under the Vols, 75-67. There will be no second-round game at Brigham Young to negotiate, not for UT at least.
This was yet another spotty chapter in Tennessee’s postseason history.
Last year, at least, it was a mid-major — Middle Tennessee State — that ended UT’s NIT adventure in the second round.
Mercer aspires to be a mid-major.
There was, however, nothing short of high major status about the Bears’ performance.
As regular-season champion of the Atlantic Sun Conference, Mercer had its own bout of disappointment to digest, being denied an NCAA bid after being upset in the conference tournament by Florida Gulf Coast.
The Bears handled their letdown better than Tennessee.
“The NIT is awesome,’’ said junior Daniel Coursey, who was an awesome 7-of-7 from the field against UT. “It’s huge for the school, for the program.’’
From the opening tip, it was apparent to a crowd of 4,468 and an ESPNU television audience that Mercer was more engaged than was UT.
“They played the game like it was the end of their lives,’’ said UT sophomore Jarnell Stokes.
The Vols played the game like they were resigned to the end of their season.
Tennessee, feeling disrespected by the NCAA tourney selection process, managed sporadic leads through the first half, the last at 27-24. Mercer closed the half with a 10-1 spurt and never looked back.
The Vols opened the second half with a pair of listless turnovers (the second a shot-clock violation) and were fighting an uphill battle the rest of the way.
The Bears, who had won at Florida State and at Alabama earlier in the year, had ample resolve — and skill — to win here.
“This year we won nine road games and last year we won 12 road games,’’ said coach Bob Hoffman.
“It’s not like this was just some mistake or something crazy that happened tonight.’’
In fact, it didn’t seem crazy at all.
The Bears, at times, ran a half-court offensive clinic. Their shooting percentage never dipped below the final 50 percent.
“I don’t care how many points you score,’’ UT coach Cuonzo Martin said, “you’ve got to have a mindset to defend.’’
That’s some other coaches’ problem now. The Big Dance commences in earnest today around the nation. Motivation won’t be an issue. It’s where every team wants to be.
At UT, meanwhile, spring break commences.
Tennessee had its moments this season, which shouldn’t be forgotten in the wake of a disappointing ending.
But it is an ending, sooner than expected.
If the Vols didn’t really want to be in the NIT in the first place, now they’re not.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44