But the Vols that played Florida were venturing on the road for the first time in conference play while this Tennessee team was playing Alabama on a neutral court with a full season under its belt. That doesn't say much for Tennessee's progress this year. In fact, the Vols only lost to Alabama by 13 in Tuscaloosa on Valentines Day. By any measure it was a crushing defeat for a team that demonstrated some recent signs of life in victories over Auburn and South Carolina and the best road performance of the season in a close loss at Vanderbilt.
But Buzz Peterson's Vols reverted to their faltering early SEC season form against Alabama as they fell behind early and never fought back. They made 15 turnovers against only seven assists and went scoreless for a 9:20 span in the first half as they fell behind 45-28 at the half, including 13 offensive rebounds.
In his post game media Q&A, Peterson said: "I blew my cap at half time" — hinting he issued an emotional challenge to his team to "take pride" in their defense. The Vols did open the second half with more intensity on defense but the surge was short lived, as the offense continued to misfire and the team was soon in full retreat.
"It was a very tough night," Peterson said of the one-sided setback. "We had been playing well and had more confidence. I thought we had good practices and came in in a good mood and good spirits. I had talked about energy and enthusiasm and coming out with intensity, make the hustle plays.
"We've got to have our defense carry us and we didn't play good defense tonight."
Bama essentially beat Tennessee's man-to-man defense one-on-one, clearing and isolating defenders and beating them off the dribble or with good low post positioning or with good perimeter shooting (7-of-14 on three-point attempts).
Meanwhile the Vols couldn't score with the proverbial No. 2 pencil. How bad was it? Tennessee only scored six points with one field in the first 10:52 of the second half, which combined with the first half drought comes to 20 minutes and 12 seconds with only one field goal and six points.
"I want somebody on our team to step up and say this is what we need to do," Peterson said while describing Tennessee's lack of floor leadership. "I want us to take pride in our defense."
Alabama (17-11, 9-8) was led in scoring by Kennedy Winston with 17 points, followed by Chuck Thomas, 16, Earnest Shelton, 15, and Chad Davis with 13. Tennessee (15-13, 7-10) was paced by Scooter McFadgon with 14 points and six rebounds and Brandon Crump with 13 points and four boards. Point guard C.J. Watson scored only two points on 1-of-6 shooting. Freshman Major Wingate scored nine points and added four rebounds for the Vols, who now hope to receive an invitation to the NIT where they hope to win their first post season contest under Peterson in four attempts.
"I hope it's a home game." Peterson said of a potential NIT game next week. "Our home record has been good. I know our team needs the practice."
Because they are currently on spring break, Peterson said the Vols will stay Friday to see the four quarterfinal contests.
"These could all be NCAA teams," Peterson said of the remaining eight SEC Tournament contenders. "I want them to see what it takes to be an NCAA team."
The Vols have mastered the art of early elimination.