Reality check

The air of invincibility surrounding Tennessee's basketball team didn't even last until the regular-season opener. It was shattered Monday night, when the No. 23 Vols suffered a humiliating 79-64 home-floor exhibition loss to Div. II Indianapolis.

Clearly, the Big Orange is not nearly as good as it thought it was after pounding Div. II Brevard 91-42 in the exhibition opener last Wednesday.

"It's definitely a reality check," senior point guard Melvin Goins said. "It's something we're never going to forget. We're going to focus on Friday (regular-season opener vs. Chattanooga) but at the same time use this for some type of motivation because this is a feeling we don't want to feel again."

Making the loss all the more humbling was the fact Indianapolis beat Tennessee at its own game. Greyhounds coach Stan Gouard played for UT's Bruce Pearl at Southern Indiana and uses essentially the same schemes.

"They either scored early or scored late," Goins said. "They used the same principles we do, and beat us at our own game. That was real tough and embarrassing."

Like his teammates, Goins' demeanor in the post-game interview area was an odd mixture of shock, anger, bewilderment and frustration.

"We're a little down, a little embarrassed," junior wing Cameron Tatum said, his voice barely audible. "You've got to bounce back, let this be a learning process ... learn what we need to get better at.

"We've got some (new) guys we're trying to get plugged in and understand what their role is. Once we get everything clicking and get everybody on the same page, everything will start going the way we want it to."

Perhaps. But nothing went the way the Vols wanted it to Monday night. They couldn't work the ball inside and couldn't hit from outside. They couldn't stop Indianapolis' guards from penetrating. The Vols couldn't even dribble and pass, committing 25 turnovers.

"We was just careless with the ball," Goins said. "We didn't come too ready to play. They weren't really forced turnovers, so it was mostly on us."

The worst aspect of Tennessee's performance, however, was its total meltdown at the start of the second half. The Greyhounds outscored the Vols 26-3 coming out of the break, turning a 32-40 deficit into a 58-43 lead.

"It's really unexplainable," Goins said. "We didn't defend. We were careless with the ball, and they capitalized on those turnovers."

"We didn't come out with any heart," Tatum grumbled. "That's enough said."

Asked if the visitors appeared to gain confidence during Tennessee's second-half lull, Tatum nodded.

"They got their confidence because we didn't come out excited to play," he said. "When you don't come out excited to play it will give any team confidence ... against anybody."

He started to continue, paused, then added: "I'm at a loss for words, really."

That was only a momentary condition, however. Tatum's frustration returned seconds later and so did his need to vent.

"There was no sense of urgency coming out the second half," he said. "We didn't come out the way we're supposed to.... We was flat as soon as we stepped out on the floor the second half. They hit their first two shots and we didn't answer back. We didn't answer on the offensive end or even by just saying, 'OK, they're not going to score any more.' We just kept playing the same way that we started the second half."

Freshman Tobias Harris also was angered by the Vols' failure to match Indianapolis' energy at the start of the second half.

"I sensed them making a run and coming at us real hard," he said. "We just backed down from them basically and didn't give it back to them."

The absence of 2009-10 senior leaders Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince and Bobby Maze was obvious during Tennessee's second-half fade. Goins said this year's veterans tried to rally the troops but failed.

"We tried to take control," he said, "but the situation was what it was. We kept getting down. We faced adversity and tried to battle back but things didn't work out our way. It was a good Indianapolis team. They're very disciplined, and it's hard to come back and try to make those runs after teams like that get up."

The obvious question: How will the Vols respond? Certainly, Tennessee has bounced back from humbling losses before. The 2009-10 Vols suffered a 74-45 beat-down at the hands of Kentucky in the SEC Tournament just 13 days before upsetting Ohio State to advance to the NCAA's Elite Eight.

The 2008-09 Vols gave up 54 points to Jodie Meeks in a 90-72 home-floor loss to Kentucky, yet rallied to win the SEC East. Tatum was a member of both of those UT squads.

"Yeah," he said, "but this is a totally different group, so we've got to figure out what we can do to get this group going. That's the process we're in right now."

Asked if the loss to Indianapolis might give the current Vols new levels of fire and determination, Tatum shrugged.

"If you have any type of basketball pride or basketball toughness in you," he said, "it should be a wakeup call."


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