Rick Barnes- Tennessee vs Alabama

Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes calls during a game at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Jan 2, 2021.

In its second SEC game of the season, Tennessee struggled to get going early. No. 7 Tennessee suffered its first loss of the season 71-63 to Alabama after never being able to get its game going early. 

Here are three takeaways.

Uncharacteristic start

On the season, Tennessee has been the team to get off to quick starts and put its opponents into somewhat insurmountable holes. 

Against the Crimson Tide, the Vols struggled to find any of the momentum they had coming off their win at No. 12 Missouri. 

Offensively the Vols struggled to make shots consistently and were well under their average 47% field goal percentage, only shooting 32% from the field against Alabama. The story was the same behind the three-point line as Tennessee only made two of its eight three points attempts. 

“Offensively we were terrible to start the game, ” head coach Rick Barnes said. “We turned the ball over three times to start along with a travel call and just falling all over ourselves. Santi gets stripped but give Alabama all the credit, they came in and did what they wanted.” 

Vescovi led the Vols in scoring in the first half with eight points but early foul trouble would take him off the court and it stagnated the offense. 

Tennessee also shot an uncharacteristic 55% from the free-throw line in the first half while the Crimson Tide went five-for-five. 

Yves Pons was also a victim of early foul trouble which hurt Tennessee on the defensive end of the court and helped lead to Alabama being up at halftime 31-29. 

“I thought Yves not being in the game hurt us, ” Barnes said. “I thought that was a big thing because he’s a difference-maker out there but bad a couple of tough calls go against him.” 

Tennessee hadn’t been down at halftime at any point so far this season and Alabama is only the second team to score more than 30 points in the first half against Tennessee. 

Defense struggles

Alabama did something that no one has been able to do to Tennessee and that made its defense look extremely average. 

Tennessee has held its opponents to an average of just 52 points this season, along with a 36% field goal percentage and a 27% three-point percentage.

Alabama was able to completely blow those percentages out of the water with its five out offensive style that put the Vols on their heels early defensively. 

On the night the Crimson Tide shot an impressive 50% from behind the three-point line and the 10 three-pointers they made all came at crucial times as Tennessee tried to get back in the game. 

Alabama also went 41% from the field and one of the catalysts in its success was John Petty. 

Petty has been a thorn in the Vols’ side throughout his career, especially in Thompson-Boling Arena where he went for 30 points in 2019. He would only score 19 tonight but he was able to go seven-of-eight from the field and four-for-four from behind the three-point line. Petty also added seven rebounds to his stat sheet. 

The loss of Jaden Springer early in the game did play a part in the Vols’ defensive struggles along with Pons foul trouble in the first half. 

Pons would be one of the lone bright spots tonight in the second half as he was able to record five blocks and keep Tennessee in the game on the defensive end single-handedly at times. 

“When I get back on the court I give everything I have, ” Pons said. “This is what I do, getting blocks and making fix it plays but it takes more than one person to get it done and we didn’t tonight.

71 points is the most an opponent has scored on the Vols this season and it won’t get any easier as Arkansas comes to town on Wednesday night

Offensive inefficiency 

One step forward, two steps back, Tennessee tonight took some steps back offensively. 

Tennessee struggled to find any offensive consistency tonight, only shooting 31% from the field compared to its usual 47% average and just 19% from the three-point line which is a complete anomaly compared to its usual 38% average. 

One of the Vols who struggled the most tonight was John Fulkerson who has been inconsistent in the young season. Tonight, Fulkerson finished with just seven points and went a backbreaking 37% from the free-throw line. 

“Offensively he never established what we needed to get done, ” Barnes said. “We got the ball to Fulkerson but he went three for eight from the free-throw line which is tough from a guy you count on around the rim or trust to get you to the rim.” 

Victor Bailey Jr. led the Vols in scoring with 16 points but like most of his teammates, he struggled to shoot the ball going just four-for-14 from the field but was one of the only Vols to have a good night from the free throw line, going eight-of-nine.

Free throw shooting crippled Tennessee tonight as the Vols went just 65% from the line and stifled any chance they had to come back, along with poor execution offensively. 

“We had momentum, ” Pons said. “Alabama gave us a lot of opportunities to get back in the game in the second half. We didn’t take them. We need to get better. We have the leadership to learn from this and bounce back. I am positive we’ll be fine.” 

Up Next

Tennessee will have a chance to rebound when Arkansas comes to town Wednesday night for a 7 p.m. ET tipoff on ESPN2. 

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