Tennessee’s 31 game home winning streak came to an end Saturday afternoon when No. 13 Memphis knocked off the Vols 51-47 in a defensive battle.
Memphis used a 20-7 run to end the first half as Tennessee’s senior guards struggled to give the Vols offense.
Here are three takeaways.
End of the first half
It’s rare to call the last eight minutes of a half as “the end of the half”, but in a game as low scoring and ugly as this one it was an accurate description.
Tennessee led 17-5 with eight minutes left in the first half and every opportunity to put the Tigers away.
Tennessee had three starters with two fouls and Rick Barnes decided to sit them the rest of the half.
The Tigers went to their “double-fist” defense, a full court trap, and while Tennessee did a good job of handling the ball, Memphis was able to increase the pace of the game. Memphis’ offense started to find life and Tennessee struggled to hit open shots that the press presented.
“When we had advantage basketball, we didn’t take advantage,” Barnes said. “We just continued to get the ball across and didn’t attack like we had talked about.”
The Tigers would close the half on a 20-7 run, ending with a Tyler Harris layup at the buzzer to give Memphis its first lead of the day.
“They sped us up a little bit and we started taking bad shots,” freshman Josiah-Jordan James said. “A lot of leak outs and a lot of transition buckets. They had a couple offensive rebounds. I feel like when we get a team in the half court offense that’s when we’re at our best defensively, but when we turn the ball over and are scrambling on defense, that’s when teams can get us.”
While Tennessee would have plenty of chances to win in the second half, the Vols inability to hold off the Tigers and their “double-fist” defense cost Tennessee big time.
Senior guards struggle
Much has been made of Tennessee’s senior led backcourt of Lamonté Turner and Jordan Bowden, but the duo struggled mightily on the offensive end.
Bowden made just 2 of 10 shots scoring a season low five points. Bowden made just 1of 6 3-point shots as the Vols’ senior was one of just two Tennessee players to make a 3-pointer.
Turner’s shooting struggles this season continued as Turner shot just 1 of 11 from the field and 0 of 5 from 3-point range.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Barnes said when asked about how to find more consistency from Turner and Bowden. “I have confidence in them. They’ve moved into new roles and they’re going to have to figure it out too. As a group we’ll figure it out.”
A positive to take away from Bowden and Turner’s performance was the way the dup took care of the ball. Turnovers have been a common problem for Tennessee, and particularly Turner, all season, but the Vols turned it over just nine times in the loss. Turner and Bowden had just four combined.
Let’s dive into the offense
As mentioned above, Tennessee didn’t get enough from its senior guards on the offensive end to win, but Bowden and Turner’s numbers weren’t the only that left both teams disappointed in their offense.
Tennessee shot just 25% from the field on the afternoon, its lowest mark of the season. The Vols also shot just 4 of 26 from 3-point range. If you take out the hot shooting of Josiah-Jordan James, the Vols shot just 1 of 20 from 3-point range.
What was seemingly most frustrating to Barnes postgame was the sheer number of wide-open shots that the Vols missed, and how that took them out of a rhythm on that end of the court.
“I think it’s tough sometimes when you catch the ball and you’re wide open,” Barnes said. “Lamonté, a couple guys, had shots that were wide open. Can’t be any more open than that. I think doubt creeps in when guys shoot one or two and don’t make it. That’s where you have to have confidence in the flow of the game and the flow of the offense.”
Tennessee wasn’t the only team to struggle on the offensive end as the Vols held Memphis’ high-power offense to just 51 points.
The Tigers shot just 34% from the floor and 39% from 3-point range in the win. Memphis also turned it over 17 times and looked out of rhythm for much of the game on the offensive end.
It’ll be a quick turnaround for Tennessee as the Vols will travel to Cincinnati to face the Bearcats on Wednesday. It’s the first true road game of the year for Tennessee. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN2.