Tennessee couldn’t quite put Texas A&M away all evening before the Aggies used a late game rally to hand the Vols their second straight loss. Tennessee shot 17% higher from the field than Texas A&M, but the Aggies outrebounded the Vols 46-21 to improve to 4-3 in SEC play. Tennessee drops to 4-3 in the league with the loss.
Here are three takeaways.
Sloppy first half
From a quick look at the stat sheet you’d have expected Tennessee to have a healthy lead. The Vols shot 50% in the first half while holding Texas A&M to 31% shooting from the field and 23% from 3-point range.
However, Texas A&M took a one-point lead into the locker room. The Aggies used 10 offensive rebounds to the Vols one in the first half to help claim a first half lead. Texas A&M clearly wanted to shorten the game and did so in the first half.
“I thought we got off to a good start and then we had a couple turnovers that turned the momentum early in the game,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. We even came back out and took the lead but simple things, mostly rebounding, we couldn’t come up with to finish defensive possessions.”
Texas A&M also got to the foul line seven times in the first half, going 4 of 7 at the charity stripe earning three more points at the line than the Vols, who went an uncharacteristic 1 of 4 at the line in the first half.
Also, despite turning the ball over just one more time than Texas A&M, the Aggies turned the Vols turnovers into 12 of their 25 points.
Tennessee did some good things on the offensive end in the first half, assisting on eight of its 10 made baskets, but consistency was lacking from the Big Orange as Tennessee never seemed to get in a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball.
The Vols also returned to their quick trigger on 3-point shots in the first half. Tennessee went 3 of 11 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes and 7 of 9 from inside the 3-point line.
“I think it just all comes throughout our offense,” forward John Fulkerson said. “We have a lot of plays that are meant to go inside and I just think we have to execute our offense.”
Rebounds and pace of play
It doesn’t take long to look at the box score and see how Tennessee got upset at home Tuesday night. Texas A&M dominated on the glass doubling the Vols in rebounds, 46-21.
“It’s pretty simple,” Barnes said. “When you give up 23 offensive rebounds and you only get three yourself you don’t really deserve to win the game, and that’s what I told our guys. The fact is we guarded the way we needed to, we just didn’t rebound.”
The Aggies ability to dominate the glass allowed them to control the pace of the game slowing it down to a halt at times by consistently holding the ball late into the shot clock. Credit Buzz Williams and the Aggies for often taking advantage of Tennessee’s aggressive switches on defense, giving Jonathan Aku and Emanuel Miller chances to rebound against smaller Vols.
The Aggies duo combined for 11 offensive rebounds on the night.
Texas A&M’s rebounding wouldn’t let Tennessee fully take control of the game and run away with this one as it looked like they might multiple times in the second half.
Twice with Tennessee looking to extend its lead, the Aggies got two offensive rebounds on a possession ending each with baskets, including a Wendell Mitchel 3-pointer that gave Texas A&M a one-point lead with 11 minutes to play.
The dagger would then come with just under a minute to play when the Vols played 29 seconds of great defense before Emanuel Miller got a deep 3-pointer to drop as the shot clock expired, giving the Aggies a 56-53 lead.
Tennessee has to get more from its bench
Besides the play of Josiah-Jordan James, who scored a quick five points than disappeared Tuesday night, Tennessee’s starters played pretty well.
Santiago Vescovi’s shot wasn’t falling like it often is, but the Uruguayan native scored 10 points and looked in more control tonight than at any other point since he’s been in Knoxville. Barnes leaned on the freshman hard tonight, playing him 37 minutes, but Vescovi was up for the challenge dishing out six assists and turning it over just twice.
Jordan Bowden struggled mightily for much of the night, standing at 1 of 9 shooting from the field in the second half. However, that game isn’t as close if Bowden doesn’t do what he did in the last ten minutes.
The Knoxville native, threw down a monstrous one-handed jam and finished a 3-point play on back-to-back possessions giving the Big Orange a four-point lead with just over eight minutes left.
Bowden also hit a contested 3-pointer to tie up the game in the last two minutes.
Fulkerson and Pons were once again solid on the offensive end combining for 25 points on 11 of 17 shooting.
After that, Tennessee didn’t get any other production on the night. Jalen Johnson had the Vols’ lone basket off the bench hitting a first half three. Olivier Nkamhoua and Uroš Plavšić failed to give Tennessee strong play, combining for just 11 minutes and two rebounds.
“All we need he (Plavšić) and Olivier to do right now is defend the way we want them to defend and rebound the ball,” Barnes said. “At his size he has to be a fix it guy. When things do break down, he has to go make a play on the ball.”
Tennessee looked tired down the stretch and one has to think the continuous 30-minute nights have to be leaning on guys. When Tennessee doesn’t get anything from its bench its room for error is just too small in SEC play.
That’s been the case far too much for Tennessee this year and was the case Tuesday night where the Vols were upset despite holding Texas A&M to 30% shooting.
Tennessee returns to action Saturday when they travel to the Magnolia State to take on Mississippi State. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. ET at Humphrey Coliseum.