Alabama blew another big lead at home to Tennessee to drop to 12-10 (4-5).
Things started sluggish for both teams, until we made a barrage of 3s to go on a 16-2 run which helped build a 15 point lead with around four minutes remaining in the first half. Another poor end of the first half and an even worse start to the second allowed Tennessee to go on a 18-2 run, and soon the lead was gone.
The last plays of the first half and the first of the second are a good illustration of what happened during the run. We were up 10 and had the ball, presumably holding for the last shot, but Kira initiated the offense with about 10 seconds remaining with a bad pass and we lost the ball out of bounds. UT hit a shot at the buzzer to cut the lead to 8. First play to start the second half, Shack can't control a poor in-bounds pass from Alex resulting in a turnover. UT scores on an offensive rebound, and now we're suddenly in a 6 point ball game.
The game was mostly back and forth down the stretch, with Tennessee living at the line and killing us on the boards, while we made just enough 3s and circus shots at the rim to stay in it despite an abundance of sloppy turnovers. We trailed by 4 in the final minute, and a JP dunk made it a 2 point game with 40 seconds left. We played good defense and got a stop with a rebound by JP with about 16 seconds remaining. We had a timeout remaining, but inexplicably did not use it. Normally I like f playing for overtime at home, but at this point literally every single one of our bigs had fouled out. The team was clearly exhausted, and we would have had no chance in overtime. Instead of going for the win, Kira drove the lane and for reasons I still don't understand decided to dump the ball off to Jaylen Forbes, of all people, in traffic. Veterans like Kira and JP have to be more aware in that situation, and even if Oats initially liked his chances with them initiating the offense without Barnes being able to set up his defense, he should have been calling a timeout as soon as Kira took off down the baseline. At a bare minimum he should have been on the floor calling timeout the second the ball touched Forbes hands. Instead, we used the last time out after UT made the first of their free throws on the other end. Even if they missed the second one, I'm not sure what he was drawing up that would have any chance of a decent shot considering we would have to advance the ball the length of the court in under 4 seconds with no timeouts. Of course, it was a moot point because UT made both free throws, and Kira answered by making the three at the buzzer that he should have taken the previous possession.
In each of our last 3 home games we've had 15 point leads, but we are 1-2 in those games and had to sweat the one win out at the end. Coach Oats said in his post-game remarks that he doesn't have an answer for why we can't sustain a good effort for 40 minutes. It may be wrong, but I have an idea: our guys are flat worn out, playing one of the top 5 fastest tempos in the nation with only 7-8 players, at least 3 of which would barely be in the rotation in the first place if we had a full deck.
I like Oats' general philosophy, and I generally prefer a man to man defense to a zone myself, but sometimes you need to play zone at least for small stretches. When you only have 8 players available, two of which haven't been able to practice due to illness, it's the second game in a short turn-around, you are getting killed on the glass by a larger team who is only shooting 12% from 3-point range, and every player you have capable of playing the 4 or 5 spots is either already out of the game or has 4 fouls....that's a good time to run zone for a few possessions. Maybe force some jump shots and save a little energy on defense. Barnes coached circles around Oats in this game.
Other than the rebounding and the turnovers, the foul trouble was a big part of the game. Alex, Davis, and Galin all fouled out. Tennessee shot 32 free throws to our 8. I did not have as big of a problem with the officiating as most. Sure, there was a ticky-tack foul or two against us and a few no-calls on our end that I didn't like, but I thought most of the whistles against us were good calls. Davis's 5th foul was for hip checking a guy 25 feet from the basket, and Alex's 5th foul was for an obvious reach in 60 feet from the basket. We have to play smarter. In fairness to Galin, they missed an over-the-back on UT that resulted in the loose ball he was going after when he picked up his fifth.
JP picked up a technical foul, and I didn't have a good view of it, but from what I heard all he did was slap the floor going into a timeout. It seems like the officials just do not like JP for some reason. He played a decent game with 8 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 turnovers. I think the added pressure on him defensively with Herb out is hurting his offensive production. Kira was the leading scorer with 19 points, but had only 4 assists with 5 turnovers and made the bad decision to drive to the basket on the next to last possession. Nobody else was in double-figures. I thought Beetle played excellent defense in his return, but he needs to stop with the dribble-drive when he's running point on offense. In general, I thought we ran too much iso in the second half and attempted too many difficult shots among the trees in the paint. Especially when we are small and short-handed, I would like to see us slow it down a bit, and run some sets with JP, Shack, even Beetle going through multiple off-ball screens to hopefully get some open jump shots from the 3 point line.
The guys are playing hard, but we don't have the horses to do what we are trying to do right now. You can probably put a fork in this season. Looking at the upcoming schedule, this 3 game losing streak is more than likely to grow to 6. At which point, we will be an NIT bubble team, at best. All we can hope for is that the team continues to play hard and improves, a healthy Herb provides a boost at the end of the season and maybe we can get hot in the SEC tournament.
The crowd was a bit disappointing, but not surprising coming off of two losses and a 6 pm Tuesday night start. I would guess only about 8,000 or so were there, and the student section was only about three quarters full. The fans were loud and tried to give the team a boost in the closing minutes. As a side note, anybody who alleges that AD Greg Byrne doesn't care about basketball, did not see him yelling at the officials and cheering for the team in the second half. He was as emotionally invested as any of us.
Up next, we go to Athens, GA to take on the Bulldogs Saturday at 5pm Central, 6pm Eastern. Raise your hand if you're looking forward to watching us try to guard Anthony Edwards? I'll be watching this one on the SEC Network, I'm hoping Bobbyjack will make the short drive and give us a first hand account.