Tennessee did not need an excellent offensive night to win this game. A good night at the office would have sufficed. Perhaps an average offensive night would have been enough, or maybe even a mediocre night could have ended with an odds-defying Tennessee victory.
Instead, the No. 13 Vols had an atrocious offensive showing, falling to Texas Tech 57-52 in overtime at the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Tennessee turned in what was easily its worst offensive effort of the young season, making only 6-of-40 attempts from three-point range and shooting 26.8% in total from the field.
“It’s kind of frustrating," Josiah-Jordan James – who went 1-for-8 from 3FG – said. "But basketball, some days the ball seems like it can’t not go in. And some days it seems like just can’t make it. It comes with the ebbs and flow of the game.”
The Vols stayed true to themselves and Rick Barnes’ approach to take the open shots they get, even if it means shooting 40 threes a game. The Vols managed to get a large number of clean looks against Texas Tech’s excellent defense, but they did not connect on many of them.
Tennessee made 2 threes in each of the first two halves and added 2 more in overtime. The Vols even started the second half on an 0-for-17 stretch from deep.
If the Vols had hit just a fraction of their missed threes, it would be a completely different narrative. Santiago Vescovi missed a wide-open three to win the game in the final seconds of regulation.
James also whiffed on a fast-break layup that would have put the Vols ahead. As he explained postgame, he “hyper-extended” his knee and fell. As a team, the Vols made 8-of-23 layups.
It’s not only the missed threes and layups that haunt the Vols, an 8-for-16 night at the free-throw line looms large in a 5-point loss.
“A lot of shots weren’t falling we didn’t do some of the things we needed to do,” sixth-year senior John Fulkerson said.
Give credit where it’s due. Despite some offensive struggles of its own, Texas Tech shut down the Vols completely on defense. Tech entered the night as a top-20 team according to KenPom’s rankings, and the Red Raiders showed why in the big stage of The Garden Tuesday night.
Their elite defense under head coach Mark Adams was as advertised, limiting the Vols to a season-low in points, field goal percentage and three-point percentage. They totaled 6 blocks and 6 steals, highlighted by Daniel Batcho’s 2-block night.
Tennessee tried to combat Tech’s defense by taking the sheer number of threes it did. The misses would have been excusable if the Vols had gotten many second effort points, but Texas Tech swarmed the Vols at the glass, grabbing 44 defensive boards to the Vols’ 10 offensive rebounds.
The misses, combined with a lack of second chances, was the reason why the Red Raiders won while shooting 31% from the field.
Barnes took away a handful of positives from the disappointing loss. Even with all the misses, the Vols did make a few when it mattered.
James’ lone three tied the game at 44-44 and sent the Vols into overtime. And in overtime, Vescovi’s second triple of the night brought the Vols within a possession in the final seconds. His first three tied the game at 41-41 with under two minutes to go in regulation.
Barnes knows the Vols can only go up from here. They’ll take the experience from playing on a national stage, learn from their mistakes and keep shooting their threes as they host two weaker opponents in UNC Greensboro and USC Upstate in the next week, before facing Memphis in Nashville on Dec. 18.
“We had a great look to win the game, as poorly as we were on the offensive end tonight,” Barnes said. “That’s part of it. We know we can be a lot better ... You hope you can make your share of them. We didn’t make enough of them. We just needed to think about it one or two more and it would have maybe cut the lid off it, but it didn’t.”