Humble beginnings

When the Tennessee-Alabama basketball game tipped off Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena a season-best home crowd of 21,948 was fired up and focused. Oddly enough, the home team was not.

Despite being tied for the SEC East lead in the loss column and defending their home floor in the midst of high-decibel crowd support, the Vols seemed to have left their intensity in the locker room. They took poor shots. They made sloppy passes. They failed to get back on defense. In short, they showed very little discipline and focus.

That's why they trailed 19-26 after 14 minutes, 24-34 after 18 minutes and 28-39 at the half. Although Tennessee clawed back to take short-lived leads at 45-44 and 57-55, the energy expended in overcoming the early deficit helped doom the Vols in a 65-60 overtime loss.

Saturday's stumbling start could be overlooked except for one thing: It wasn't an aberration. It was the continuation of an alarming pattern. Consider:

- Tennessee trailed 11-21 after 11 1/2 minutes of Game 10 vs. Southern Cal and lost 64-65.

- Tennessee trailed 15-35 after 11 minutes of Game 13 vs. College of Charleston and lost 78-91.

- Tennessee trailed 15-19 after 10 minutes of Game 16 vs. Florida and lost 75-81 in overtime.

- Tennessee trailed 13-30 after 18 minutes of Game 17 vs. Vanderbilt but came back to win 67-64.

- Tennessee trailed 24-34 after 18 minutes vs. Alabama and lost 60-65 in overtime.

Each of these games took place on Tennessee's home floor, where the Vols are supposed to ride the energy of their home crowd to a quick start. Each time, however, the Vols were knocked on their heels by an opponent who got on an early roll by making better decisions and more plays. One Vol thought a rash of poor decisions was largely responsible for the early deficit.

"We kind of got out of character," junior wing Cameron Tatum said. "People were playing out of their element - including myself - taking wild 30-footers and things like that. My game is to shoot the 3 but to shoot the wide-open 3 at the right time and to get other guys involved.

"The second half I tried to make sure that was my focus - getting other guys involved, taking smart shots and not taking any 'huh' shots."

Sophomore guard Skylar McBee thought Alabama opened the game with more pep in its step than Tennessee, noting that "We needed to come out with a little more energy in the first half."

Actually, Tennessee's energy was fine for about four minutes. Harris and Tatum made two quick baskets each as the Vols bolted to a 9-4 lead. The Big Orange hit a lull at this point, however, and Alabama took control of the game with a 15-5 spurt that produced a 19-14 lead.

"We got off to a good start at the beginning of the game," Harris said. "But, as the game progressed, we just didn't follow through with it."

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