Tennessee's bittersweet Senior Day regular season finale ended with more bitterness than anything else. The Vols failed to score over nearly 14 minutes of play in the first half and the biggest roar of the game happened when senior Kevin Punter, whose season is over as he heals from a stress fracture in his foot, was honored during a second half timeout.
There wasn't much else to cheer about.
The Vols opened with a flurry of points but a cold streak of epic proportions stymied the offensive production enough for Ole Miss to take a commanding lead it would not relinquish. The Rebels downed Tennessee, 83-60, to cap a turbulent season dogged by injuries and inconsistency in Rick Barnes' first year at the helm.
"We weren't good in any area of the game today," Barnes said. "They pretty much beat us any way you want to beat a team, and I hate that for our seniors because I wish we could have finished on a good note for them. We've really lost our confidence and that's a tough thing to bring back."
Missing Punter has much to do with Tennessee's recent nosedive. The senior point guard averaged 22 points per game and carried the team offensively with his distribution and ability to create opportunities for others. Without him, the Vols mustered just 60 points and shot 22 percent from behind the 3-point line.
"It's been tough because him on the floor opened up scoring options for everyone," Admiral Schofield said. "Now it's like everyone is getting played the same way, very tough on defense."
Schofield finished with 12 points and six rebounds, but it was senior Devon Baulkman who carried most of the offensive bulk. Baulkman ended with a team-high 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting in his final appearance inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
"I play my heart out," Baulkman said. "Everybody makes mistakes, but I try to give my all. That's a good way to walk away. We lost, but the individual performance (was nice)."
The Vols were able to limit the SEC's leading scorer, Stefan Moody, to just 12 points, but were hammered inside by Sebastian Saiz, who notched 23 points. Barnes' team also struggled to break a relentless Ole Miss press and looked much slower in transition than normal with Punter running the point.
"We didn’t execute what we talked about against them," Barnes said. "We knew they were going to get in their press and do that. We’re walking the ball up the floor. When you walk the ball up the floor, they’re just backing up. There’s not going to be any outlets until you attack it. We keep walking it up. You can’t step across half court or get into those areas on the floor where you know you’re going to get trapped. We just weren't aggressive."
The loss likely relegates Tennessee to the opening round of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday pending the rest of Saturday's SEC matchups. If Mississippi State loses to Auburn on Saturday, the Vols play Wednesday as the No. 12 seed.
"At this time of the year, you know who you are. We can play better, but we have lost our transition game. Things we have practiced since last May and June are things we haven't been doing. That is hard. We have had to improvise. You can't ask a guy to do something he isn't capable of doing. We have spent a lot of time working on certain things. So much of that was driven by KP, and when he went down, we had to change some things. We just aren't very fluid right now."