Incredibly, the Big Orange went the next 13 minutes without a point, during which time Alabama made an 18-0 run to build a 53-36 lead. Armani Moore finally scored on a put-back with 37 seconds left. In addition to snapping an 0-for-15 slump, that shot produced Tennessee’s first point in 13:02 and its first field goal in 14:07.
Bottom line: Bama closed the game on a 21-2 run that produced a 56-38 victory at Thompson-Boling Arena. Winning for the sixth time in a row, the Tide improved to 12-3. Tennessee, 9-5, matched its lowest point total since Dec. 5, 2012, when the Vols suffered a 46-38 loss at Virginia.
Describing Tennessee’s offense as “ugly” and “stagnant” during those final 13 minutes, Vol head man Donnie Tyndall added: “We don’t have a guy to just throw the ball to a post and loosen some things up, so everything has to be manufactured off the dribble-drive.
“When they went zone we had a couple of good looks but we missed ‘em, and I thought guys got on their heels a little bit and quit driving the ball. Give Alabama credit: They’re long and athletic. They do a good job of making you try to score over the top of them.”
Indeed. Tennessee shot a frigid 31.1 percent (14 of 45) from the field and an icy 11.8 percent (2 of 17) from 3-point range.
“It’s a common theme,” Tyndall noted. “I think we were three for 20 (in a loss) against Marquette, so we’re a perimeter-oriented team. When we don’t shoot the ball real well from behind the arc that makes it tougher for us, and that was certainly the case here today.”
Basically, the Vols had won five games in a row with air-tight defense but they were beaten by a superior defensive team on this afternoon.
“They did a good job of making us settle for jump shots in the zone,” senior point guard Josh Richardson said. “We played right into what they wanted. There’s a lot of different reasons for what happened, but I can’t really put a finger on it.”
One reason is the utter lack of an inside presence, forcing the Vols to rely heavily on perimeter scoring. The guards came through big-time Wednesday night at Mississippi State, combining to hit 10 of 20 shots from 3-point range in a 61-47 victory. They took the day off this time, however. Except for Richardson (6 of 13 field goals, 1 of 3 from 3, 17 points), Tennessee’s perimeter players were no-shows.
Kevin Punter went 0 for 7 from the field, including 0 for 4 from 3-point range. His only points came on a pair of free throws. Devon Baulkman (0 of 1 from the field, 0 of 1 from 3) started but delivered just 13 minutes of what Tyndall described as “sluggish” play. Robert Hubbs relieved Baulkman and played 30 minutes but made just 2 of 10 shots, including 1 of 4 from behind the arc. Fellow reserve Detrick Mostella missed his only shot, a 3-pointer.
All told, Vol guards combined to make 25 percent (8 of 32) from the field and 15.4 percent (2 of 13) from 3. By comparison, Bama guards were exceptional. Rodney Cooper (7 of 10 field goals, 3 of 5 from 3, 17 points), Ricky Tarrant (4 of 11 field goals, 2 of 7 from 3, 14 points) and Levi Randolph (3 of 7 field goals, 1 of 4 from 3) combined to make 50 percent (14 of 28) from the field and 37.5 percent (6 of 16) from 3.
Tyndall said he spent recent practices preaching the importance of attacking Bama’s zone and not settling for jump shots. Apparently, the sermon fell on deaf ears.
“I tried to keep attacking,” Richardson said, “but they were collapsing really good.”
With 6-foot-10 Jimmie Taylor and 6-foot-9 Michael Kessens guarding the basket, Bama limited Tennessee to 14 points in the paint.
“Their length and athleticism around the rim made us shoot what I call ‘hope’ shots, where you’re double-pumping balls and throwing it up there, hoping it goes in, rather than just sticking it in the goal,” Tyndall said. “When that happens guys become reluctant (to attack the rim).”
Even with the Vols launching too often from outside, Tyndall was generally satisfied with the shot selection, noting that 15 of Tennessee’s 17 3-point tries were “good shots.”
Richardson agreed, noting: “I thought late in the game we could’ve drove it more but I’ll take those 3s. I thought they were pretty good shots.”
Moore, who contributed 8 points and 9 rebounds, said Tennessee played hard enough to win … just not well enough to win.
“I credit Alabama; they played hard,” he said. “I feel like they were the better team…. They play great defense. They’re aggressive and they get after the ball. All of ‘em hunt the ball.”
Still, he thought that 13-minute drought was as much a discredit to the Vols as a credit to the Tide.
“We just wasn’t executing,” Moore said. “We was getting sped up. We played right into their (Tide’s) strategy – taking quick shots. That was very key coming down the stretch.”
Indeed. The strength of this Tennessee team is its fullcourt pressure. That strength was negated by the Vols’ frigid shooting.
“We never really got a chance to get in our press the last 12 minutes of the game,” Tyndall deadpanned, “because we didn’t score.”
Tennessee returns to action Tuesday night, hosting Arkansas.
Donnie Tyndall post-game presser
Josh Richardson with reporters