The 58-55 setback wasn't a typical Tennessee meltdown, neither was it against Kentucky before 23,000 in Rupp Arena. Instead it was played against a Colonial Athletic Conference team that lost nine games and it was played before the season's smallest crowd of 4,196.
The Vols had their chances, once leading 25-22 in the first half and tied 29-29 at intermission, but faltered in the first four minutes of the second half, falling behind 39-31 and never got even again. UT made a couple of runs to get within a basket but could never get over the hump. In the final minute of play Scooter McFadgon misfired twice on three-pointers, the first would have put Tennessee ahead and the second would have sent the game to overtime. McFadgon finished the game with nine points on 2-of-13 shooting, including 0-of-6 from trey town.
Beyond McFadgon's shooting woes, UT got little else from the rest of it's guards. C.J. Watson scored 12 points but had six turnovers and no assists. McFadgon had five turnovers and Dane Bradshaw scored two points and had a turnover. Jon Winchester scored six points off the bench, including a three-pointer, but he also committed a senseless foul on a desperate long range attempt as the shot clock ticked down to zero. He picked up four fouls in 19 minutes of play.
Generally speaking Tennessee's backcourt couldn't match the Patriots smaller but quicker duo of Tony Skinn, who scored 16, and Knoxville native Terry Reynolds who had 15. Skinn and Reynolds combined to go 11-of-15 from the field, 7-of-10 from the foul line and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. They also contributed six rebounds and four assists.
"Their pressure caused C.J. and Scooter to have 11 turnovers between them," said Vol coach Buzz Peterson on his radio post game show. "If I could take anything back it would be the first four minutes of the second half."
Neither was Peterson pleased that the Vols three leading scorers — McFadgon, Watson and Brandon Crump — passed up open looks down the stretch with the game in the balance.
"I'm very disappointed C.J., Scooter and Brandon all had looks and passed them up," he said. "I guess when you're 2-of-13 you get a little hesitate to shoot. They all had good looks at it and nobody wanted it."
That single possession, as much as any other, reflected the failures of the Vols this season and underscored Peterson's perpetual pleas for more on-floor leadership.
"We just didn't have that guy who wanted to step up and take responsibility," Peterson said. "That's something we never got this season."
Crump, who was appointed team captain before the season began, led Tennessee with 16 points and kept the Vols within striking distance by connecting on 7-of-10 from the field. However, he only had three rebounds and wasn't effective blocking out Patriot pivot Jai Lewis who was plenty physical at 6-7, 275, and scored 13 points including six off offensive boards. He also had a game-high six rebounds to go with three steals, a block, an assist and only one turnover.
Tennessee (15-14) which shot 52 percent in the first half finished the game at 44.7 percent after hitting only 37 percent in the second stanza. George Mason (22-9) shot 43 percent in each half of this first ever meeting between the schools.
The loss extended Tennessee's post season mark under Peterson to 0-5 over three years, including first round losses in the NIT twice and in the SEC three times. Despite the disappointing results this year, Peterson could see bright spots.
"There were some good moments, going 7-1 at home in the league," he said. "The biggest surprise is how we played and how some individuals played on the road.
"I'm not happy with 15-14. I want to get to the NCAA and we need to sit down with the coaches and players and figure out what we need to do."
But wouldn't you know it, before Peterson can get to that task he must go back on the road — this time to recruit reinforcements.
TENNESSEE (15-14) Crump 7-10 2-4 16, Wingate 3-5 0-0 6, McFadgon 2-13 5-5 9, Bradshaw 1-2 0-0 2, Watson 5-9 1-1 12, Herndon 0-0 0-0 0, Asumnu 1-4 0-0 2, Winchester 1-1 3-4 6, Hendrix 1-2 0-0 2, Albrecht 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-47 11-14 55.
GEORGE MASON (22-9) Wurtz 0-1 0-0 0, Lewis 5-7 3-7 13, Skinn 6-8 2-4 16, Butler 0-8 0-0 0, Davis 3-10 1-1 7, Heinen 0-0 0-0 0, Reynolds 4-7 5-6 15, Urbina 1-1 0-0 2, Mickens 2-6 1-2 5. Totals 21-48 12-20 58.
Halftime-29-29. 3-Point goals-Tennessee 2-8 (McFadgon 0-6, Watson 1-1, Winchester 1-1), George Mason 4-16 (Skinn 2-3, Butler 0-6, Davis 0-4, Reynolds 2-3). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Tennessee 32 (Hendrix 5), George Mason 29 (Lewis 6). Assists-Tennessee 8 (McFadgon 3), George Mason 6 (Butler 3). Total fouls-Tennessee 18, George Mason 18. A-4,196.