"I'm very disappointed in the outcome but pretty proud of our kids," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show. "To come into this environment and have a chance to win the game tells you a lot about our team, about our personnel, about our character."
Tennessee had a great chance to win if the Vols had made their foul shots. They finished just 5 of 11, however, whereas the home-standing Buckeyes were 18 of 20. Free-throw woes (6 of 15) also doomed UT in last Wednesday night's 82-81 loss at Vanderbilt.
Ultimately, however, the Vols were doomed Saturday afternoon by 7-foot, 280-pound Greg Oden. He dominated the inside, finishing with 24 points and 15 rebounds. He had a double-double (16 points, 10 boards) by halftime and helped Ohio State dominate Tennessee 46-29 on the backboards.
"We don't have anybody on our roster (who can match up with) Oden," Pearl said. "I think that's why Greg has such a huge night – 24 points, 15 rebounds – because we are so undersized."
Tennessee would've had a better match-up except that Pearl had to dismiss 6-10, 250-pound senior Major Wingate before the season began.
"We scheduled this game because of Major Wingate, and then Major wasn't here to defend Oden," Pearl noted. "I think Major's size would've been a factor."
Oden also blocked three shots, discouraging Tennessee from taking the ball inside. The Vols fired up 31 shots from 3-point range but made just 7. Lofton, who led UT with 23 points, was just 3 of 11 beyond the arc. JaJuan Smith hit but 1 of 8.
"We live and die by it," Pearl said of the 3-point shot. "I thought we got a lot of good looks but they didn't go down."
In spite of its poor 3-point shooting, its inability to contain Oden and its huge rebounding deficit, Tennessee hung tough and nearly won the game.
Ohio State padded a 36-33 halftime lead to 10 points (49-39) four minutes into the second half but the Vols used a 20-10 spurt to tie the score at 59 with 3:41 to go. Three spectacular driving baskets by Lofton gave Tennessee a 66-65 lead with 47 seconds remaining.
Ramar Smith missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 26.5 seconds left but Ohio State lost the rebound out of bounds. Tennessee inbounded to Lofton, but he missed the front of another 1-and-1 with 23.9 seconds showing. It was the All-America guard's only free-throw attempt of the game.
"Obviously, we don't go to the foul line much," PearI said. "I can't for the life of me believe that 5 (Lofton) goes there one time... Chris Lofton got absolutely no respect out there from the officiating crew."
Ohio State improves to 14-3, while Tennessee slips to 13-4.
On a positive note, the youthful Vols held up well in their first big road test on national TV. They committed just 8 turnovers while forcing 20. Tennessee also did a great job forcing Ohio State to work for its points.
"One of the best fast-breaking teams in the country only scores 10 points off the fast break," Pearl said. "That's just amazing. What progress in the transition defense. And we score 22 (points in transition).
"We beat 'em in the transition game. We beat 'em in the turnover game. We just didn't beat 'em at the foul line and on the backboards."