No finishing kick

Most college basketball games are determined in the final minute, with the winner making plays and the loser making excuses.

This year Tennessee's basketball team is making more excuses than plays. The Vols (17-12 overall, 7-7 SEC) have played nine games that came down to the final possession, winning two and losing seven.

Here's a recap:

Game 9 at Charlotte: Tennessee has a chance to expand a 48-47 lead but Melvin Goins misses a 1-and-1 with 19.5 seconds left. Charlotte scores the go-ahead basket on a layup with 7.4 seconds left, then Cameron Tatum misses a 35-foot desperation shot at the buzzer in a 49-48 loss.

Game 10 vs. Southern Cal: Down 65-64, Tennessee rebounds a USC miss and calls timeout with 3.5 seconds left. Tobias Harris misses a rushed 25-footer from the right wing at the buzzer.

Game 11 vs. Belmont: Down 65-64 with 18.1 seconds left, Tennessee's Scotty Hopson scores on a drive with 5.7 seconds remaining. Belmont misses a 3 at the buzzer, and the Vols win, 66-65.

Game 15 at Arkansas: Down 68-65 following a Razorback free throw with 19 seconds left, Tennessee gets the ball to Tobias Harris, who misses a 3 from the right corner at the buzzer.

Game 16 vs. Florida: Tied 68-68, the Vols rebound a missed Florida free throw with 42 seconds left and get the ball inside to Brian Williams, whose four-foot shot is blocked by Alex Tyus. Florida misses at the buzzer but wins 81-75 in overtime.

Game 18 at Georgia: Tied 57-57 with 1:01 remaining, Tennessee's Scotty Hopson misses an inside shot but Melvin Goins gets the loose ball and sets up another play. Tobias Harris shoots an air ball from the left corner but Brian Williams rebounds and sinks an 8-footer at the buzzer for a 59-57 win.

Game 23 vs. Alabama: Tied 55-55, Tennessee forces an Alabama turnover with 17.1 seconds left, then calls time with 12.1 seconds left. Melvin Goins misses a 3-pointer and Brian Williams misses a tip just before the buzzer, then Bama wins 65-60 in overtime.

Game 25 at Florida: Up 60-59, Tennessee's Cameron Tatum misses the front end of a one-and-one with 25.5 seconds to go, and Erving Walker scores on a drive to give the Gators a one-point lead with 14.7 seconds left. Melvin Goins misses a 3 just before the buzzer, and Florida wins 61-60.

Game 29 vs. Mississippi State: Down 68-67 with 12.1 seconds left, Tennessee's Tobias Harris breaks free on an inbounds play and dunks for a 69-68 lead with 10 seconds remaining. State's Dee Bost roars upcourt and passes to Wendell Lewis, whose dunk at 0:03.4 gives the Bulldogs a 70-69 lead. Scotty Hopson misses a 40-foot desperation heave at the buzzer and State wins by a point.

Each of Tennessee's seven last-possession losses obviously hurt but you have to wonder if the Vols can bounce back from this latest one. They needed only to play defense for 10 seconds to preserve the victory but failed to do so. It was the third time this season (at Charlotte and at Florida were the others) that they squandered a last-possession lead by allowing an opposing guard to break down the defense and either drive for a layup or drive and dish to a teammate for an easy basket.

"It just shows our inconsistency, how we don't finish out games well, how we can't take that last 10 seconds for granted," Harris said. "We should've been guarding more aggressive than ever."

With games remaining at South Carolina (Thursday) and at home vs. Kentucky (Sunday), the Vols may be looking at two more last-possession outings. There is little reason for optimism, given Tennessee's recent knack for late-game futility.

Oddly enough, Vol head man Bruce Pearl won the vast majority of his last-possession games in Years 1-5 but seems to have misplaced the magic in Year 6. Asked to explain why the Vols have struggled so much in late-game situations this season, he was ... well, at a loss.

"Losses always hurt but the ones at the end probably hurt the most," he said. "In three or four of our close losses, (opposing) guards have gotten to the rim late in the game. So, have we done enough to educate them as to what they need to do in those late-game situations?"

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