Back-to-Back Blowouts Leave Horns Reeling

Apparently still hung over from the blowout lose to Duke last weekend in the Meadowlands, Texas (8-2) fell for the second straight time in a 95-78 loss to undefeated-Tennessee Saturday at the Erwin Center, snapping a 33-game non-conference home winning streak.

With F Brad Buckman already sidelined with a right calf injury sustained vs. the Blue Devils, the Texas roster took another hit when G Daniel Gibson left the game just nine minutes in with a head injury. Gibson suffered a mild concussion a couple days ago in practice and still showed lingering effects of the injury when he dropped to the floor and later left for the locker room. He did not return.

The injury bug bit G Kenton Paulino a few days earlier as well, but the Gibson departure forced Paulino to remain on the floor for a career-high 38 minutes, and he finished with 13 points despite being slowed by an abdominal strain.

The Horns showed little signs of improvement after a week of practice and let the Volunteers shoot 50 percent from the floor and from three point range one week after also allowing Duke shooters to light up the scoreboard. Texas looked equally lethargic on offense, failing to escape Tennessee’ fast-paced, swarming defensive traps, and the Horns turned the ball over 22 times.

"When you turn the ball over and give them an open court, they will find what they did," head coach Rick Barnes said of Tennessee’s ability to drain open shots.

F P.J. Tucker led the way for the Horns, tallying his third double-double of the season with a team-best 20 points and 11 rebounds. G A.J. Abrams came off the bench in Gibson’s absence and finished with a career-high 19 points after shooting 5-of-9 from behind the arc in 31 minutes of action. Despite Abrams’ impressive shooting performance, the freshman struggled distributing the ball and turned the ball over five times, while Tucker led the team with five assists.

"A.J. still has some learning to do," said Barnes. "Some of his turnovers were bad decisions and careless mistakes, butt hopefully with the experience he is getting, he will improve on that."

C LaMarcus Aldridge took just five shots from the field but managed 15 points after connecting on a career-high seven free throws. While Abrams came off the bench and stepped up big, F Mike Williams did not. Williams got the start in place of Buckman but finished with no points.

"We just didn’t play as hard as them," said Aldridge. "We were fired up but didn’t use our energy in the right way."

Tennessee jumped out to a 7-3 lead to start the game, with Aldridge scoring the first three points for Texas on a field goal and free throw. The Volunteers’ quick start continued the entire half. After Tucker scored on a lay up to close the gap to 10-5, Tennessee went on a 13-0 run until a Paulino trey ended the streak and finally woke up the home crowd after eight minutes of play.

Following two Tennessee three pointers, Abrams came in for the injured Gibson and drained a three pointer to end a Texas’ scoring draught and bring Texas to within 16 points.

The Texas deficit remained in double digits for the rest of the half, and the Horns entered the break down by 20 points. Despite out-rebounding the Vols in the half, Texas limped into the locker room with a head-shaking 10-1 turnover ratio in Tennessee’s favor.

Texas came into the second half just as sloppy, giving up four points in the first minute of play after turning the ball over twice in that span. The Horns forfeited 34 points off turnovers in the contest.

After the Vols increased their lead to 52-28, Texas finally started to shake off the hangover and went on an 8-0 run. Aldridge started the run with a reverse lay up, and the Erwin Center crowd roared as loud as it has all season when Tucker capped it off with a lay up after fighting for the rebound. Tennessee responded quickly though, and quieted the fans by firing off seven consecutive points.

With Texas down 64-39 with over 10 minutes left, Tucker started and ended a 12-5 Texas run with a pair of field goals, and the Horns showed at least some signs of life.

Texas flirted with a comeback, scoring 12 consecutive points with just over three minutes left. But with the Horns down just 11, the Vols ended any hope for Texas by scoring eight easy points on two dunks and four free throws.

In desperation mode, the Horns started firing away long-range shots, but the deficit proved too large. G J.D. Lewis came off the bench in the last couple of minutes and nailed two three pointers and a jump shot, scoring all eight of his points in the final minutes.

The Horns shot 48.1 percent (25-of-52) from the field and 45.5 percent (10-of-22) from behind the perimeter.

"We had a couple of good days of practice," said Tucker, "but just weren’t playing like ourselves. We got to give Tennessee credit for playing harder than us."

Texas returns to action Thursday, Dec. 22 vs. Texas State at the Erwin Center.

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