Futile finishes

Based on their two most recent scripts Tennessee's Basketball Vols lack the creativity to write a happy ending.

Head coach Bruce Pearl's prime directive at the end of games is to get the ball in the hands of point guard Melvin Goins - the team's best ball-handler, best distributor and best foul shooter - so he can spread the floor and create a scoring opportunity.

Two games in a row the Vols failed to do so; two games in a row they wound up forcing a long shot at the buzzer; two games in a row they wound up losing by a point.

"Spacing was an issue in both games," Pearl noted.

Against Charlotte last Friday Tennessee trailed 49-48 with 7 seconds left. Instead of getting the ball to Goins, the Vols inbounded to Scotty Hopson. Displeased with Tennessee's offensive configuration, Pearl felt compelled to call timeout as soon as Hopson dribbled into front court. That left the Vols with just 3.3 seconds to set up their final shot.

When Goins got bumped out of position, the ensuing inbounds pass instead went to 6-foot-10 Brian Williams on the right wing. He shoveled the ball to Cameron Tatum, who launched a 30-foot desperation heave that missed badly at the buzzer.

The final seconds of Tuesday night's 65-64 homefloor loss to Southern Cal were eerily similar to the Charlotte finish. This time Tatum got a defensive rebound with 15 seconds remaining but took a few dribbles before getting the ball to Goins, who immediately was trapped near midcourt. Goins passed back to Tatum, who was 35 feet from the basket and pinned against the sidelines. Tatum had no choice but to call timeout with 3.5 seconds left.

For the second game in a row the failure to quickly get the ball in Goins' hands doomed the Vols' final possession.

"Cameron makes a great rebound," Pearl noted. "But, rather than outletting the ball to Mel, he puts the ball on the floor a little bit, then gets the ball to Mel in a really tight spot. Mel gets trapped, then gets the ball back to Cameron across the 10-second line. But Cameron's got no place to go with it, and Cameron has to call timeout.

"If Cameron gets the rebound and outlets the ball to Mel and we fill lanes ... the floor gets some kind of spacing and some kind of spread (defensively), then Melvin maybe makes a play."

Because none of that happened, Tennessee had to try and set up a good shot in the final 3.5 seconds. Tobias Harris was supposed to get the inbounds pass near the top of the key. The Trojans anticipated and nullified that option, however, forcing him to come out deep on the right wing, then fire a 25-footer that rattled out at the buzzer. It was a better shot than Tatum got four days earlier but not by much.

"That was a real tough look," Harris conceded. "I knew if I got the ball at the top of the key I was going to score.... It was a tough shot, especially for a game-winner like that."

Indeed. Two games in a row Tennessee's failure to get the ball to Goins in the closing seconds forced the Vols to launch a desperation heave at the buzzer. Two games in a row they've lost by a point as a result. Their coach's frustration is evident.

"I want the ball in the point guard's hands," Pearl said. "Then maybe he gets the ball penetrated and kicked, and those guys make shots."

Perhaps, after back-to-back one-point losses, the Vols have learned that lesson. If not, there could be more gut-wrenching setbacks in their future.

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