Zone woes doom Vols in 67-59 loss

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A Tennessee basketball team that lives by the zone died by it Sunday afternoon in the third-place game of the Orlando Classic.

Marquette burned the Vols’ 1-3-1 zone – sinking 23 of 43 shots, including 6 of 14 from 3-point range – as the Golden Eagles dumped the Big Orange 67-59. Conversely, Tennessee raced to a 17-6 lead only to go cold once Marquette switched from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone, being outscored 61-42 the rest of the way.

“We expected that,” Tennessee head man Donnie Tyndall said on the post-game show. “We knew we’d have to jump up and make some shots against it. Unfortunately, we didn’t. We go 3 for 20 from 3.”

Even more distressing to the Vol coach was Tennessee’s willingness to launch from beyond the arc rather than try to penetrate Marquette’s zone.

“You can’t settle against the zone,” Tyndall said. “You have to take good, open looks when you have them but you have to drive the basketball, punch the gap in that zone, and try to get to the foul line.”

Tennessee gave up just six points to Marquette’s Matt Carlino, who scorched Georgia Tech for 38 points on Thursday. The Vols had no luck whatsoever against Duane Wilson, however. The hot-shooting freshman drained 9 of 17 from the field, 5 of 9 from 3 and 7 of 8 from the foul line en route to a career-high 30 points.

“We talked before the game about limiting Carlino, and we held him to two field goals and six points,” Tyndall noted. “But Wilson stepped up as a freshman and had a huge game. Some of those 3s he made were deep in the shot clock.”

Tennessee started another new lineup – this time going with 6-foot-8 Willie Carmichael, 6-foot-5 Armani Moore, 6-foot-6 Robert Hubbs III, 6-foot-4 Kevin Punter and 6-foot-6 Josh Richardson. Hubbs scored 5 points and Moore 4 as the Vols bolted to a 9-0 lead that eventually swelled to 17-6. Down 17-10, however, Marquette went zone and immediately seized the momentum.

With Tennessee settling for long-range jump shots, the Golden Eagles went on a 27-10 run, turning the 17-6 deficit into a 33-27 lead. It was 35-30 at halftime, thanks largely to 10 Volunteer turnovers.

The second half was all Wilson, as he scored 20 of his 30 points after intermission. A Detrick Mostella 3-pointer pulled Tennessee within a point at 44-43 with 10:32 left but Wilson answered with a 3 from the right wing and one from the key that pushed the lead to 50-43. Senior Derrick Wilson (no relation) added another 3 as Marquette’s bulge reached 10 points at 55-45 with 4:23 left.

Tennessee closed to 57-51 but Duane Wilson drained another 3, bumping the lead to 60-51 with 2:06 remaining. He then scored the final six points from the foul line for Marquette (now 4-3) to keep the Vols at bay.

The Big Orange got another big game from Moore, who posted his first career double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds.

“He’s an aggressive kid by nature,” Tyndall said. “He’s a mismatch problem at that 4 (power forward) spot. Any time you get 13 rebounds, 8 offensive, you’re obviously playing pretty hard.”

Tennessee shot a nondescript 43.3 percent against a Marquette team that came allowing opponents to shoot 51 percent from the field. Tennessee was an icy 3 of 20 from 3-point range. Hubbs made 1 of 2 behind the arc but Devon Baulkman was 1 of 5, Mostella 1 of 6, Josh Richardson 1 of 6 and Punter 0 of 4.

Two days after being outrebounded 44-22 by Kansas, the Vols dominated the Golden Eagles 39-22 on the boards. Eighteen of Tennessee’s rebounds came off the offensive glass, yet the Vols mustered very few second-half points.

“We just couldn’t convert,” Tyndall said. “We missed some chippies around the goal and we missed some really good looks from behind the 3-point line. The thing that will offset an off shooting night is getting to the free-throw line, and we just did not do that.”

Indeed. Tennessee made just 4 of 6 foul shots, compared to Marquette’s 15 of 23. Basically, the Vols never attacked the basket aggressively enough to earn free throws. This could be traced in part to the absence of a true point guard. Richardson, who has played mostly shooting guard and small forward as a collegian, is trying to adapt to the point role. The process hit a speed bump Sunday, as he produced 9 points, 5 turnovers and just 2 assists.

“That’s the deficiency of our team,” Tyndall conceded. “Josh is making progress. He’s going to continue to improve but we just don’t have that little initiator of offense – that guy that’s going to be a zip-zip guy that gets in the paint and gets other guys shots. You feel like, as a coach, you’re almost manufacturing every time down the floor – having to run perfect offense or an exact set play – and it’s hard to do that against a zone because they’re constantly moving.”

Still, Richardson’s task would’ve been a lot easier if someone could’ve hit a few perimeter shots for Tennessee.

“If you make a few jump shots, now you stretch the floor a little bit,” Tyndall said, “and those gaps inside the zone get a little bigger. But we just couldn’t knock any down tonight.”

Tennessee (2-3) returns to action Saturday, hosting Kansas State for a 3:15 tipoff in a game that will be televised by ESPN2.

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