Ice-cold Vols fall, 56-44

Shooting 30 percent from the field is cold. Shooting 20 percent is frigid. What Tennessee shot Wednesday night against Butler is indescribable. The Vols hit a mind-boggling 10.3 percent (3 of 29) in the second half en route to a 56-44 loss in the NIT semifinals.

Unable to score from anywhere on the floor, the Vols finished at just 54.5 percent (12 of 22) from the foul line and 25 percent (6 of 24) from 3-point range.

"We got some good looks," head coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show. "We didn't finish a lot of shots around the basket. We obviously shot very poorly from the foul line... I thought we kind of panicked because we are a young basketball team."

After racing to a 21-8 lead with 7:50 to go in the first half, Tennessee seemed to press, forcing passes and penetrations that simply weren't open. The result was eight turnovers in the final five minutes of the half, enabling Butler to make a 14-4 run that closed the gap to 25-22 by the break.

The momentum the Bulldogs developed late in the first half stayed with them the rest of the game. Likewise, the offensive struggled the Vols encountered late in the first half stayed with them the rest of the way.

"We lost our confidence," Pearl said.

As a result, the second half was an Orange nightmare. Josh Tabb scored on a steal and drive with 16:23 to go. Chris Lofton hit a 3-pointer with 13:58 to go. Duke Crews scored on a follow with 9:55 to go. That would be Tennessee's third and final basket of the half.

Julian Betko single-handedly outscored the Vols 11-4 during a four-minute stretch which saw Butler expand its lead from 35-34 to 46-38. Betko hit back-to-back 3s to open the barrage, scored on a drive, then bombed home another 3. Tennessee never got closer than six points thereafter.

Betko and A.J. Graves scored 15 points each to pace Butler, now 5-0. JaJuan Smith scored 16 for Tennessee. Lofton, a preseason All-American, was just 3 of 9 from the floor and scored 8 points before fouling out with 45 seconds to go.

Tennessee, now 4-1, was clearly disjointed en route to 23 turnovers. Freshman Ramar Smith and junior Jordan Howell, sharing the point-guard duties, simply never got the Vols in any sort of rhythm.

"Ramar Smith has not shown that he is a point guard, pure and simple," Pearl said. "I knew he was a combo guard; I knew he was a great guard. We think/thought we could turn him into a point guard and get him to be more solid.

"Jordan Howell has only been back for about a week (from a hand injury). His role is completely different than it was a year ago. We want Jordan to do more, and he wasn't able to do it tonight."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories