In a wild game that saw MTSU build an early 23-11 lead before the Vols battled it back to two at halftime, then saw UT lead by as many as eight - the margin they held after Jordan McRae's bucket with 7:11 to play - the Blue Raiders made every play down the stretch, and Tennessee was finally burned by their offensive problems.
MTSU closed the game on a 15-0 run over the final 7:11, as the Vols got absolutely nothing on the offensive end. Tennessee went 0 for 9 during that stretch. It wasn't as bad as the end of the Ole Miss game where the Vols took only threes, and UT only turned it over once during that span...but on a night where Jeronne Maymon had 17 points and Jarnell Stokes added 15 - again, both totals with still seven minutes to play - the Vols couldn't get the ball back inside, and settled for jumpers that just didn't fall.
Meanwhile, MTSU grabbed seven offensive rebounds during the final seven minutes and hit nine of ten free throws. That stretch bolstered them to 71.4% from the line and 46.2% for the game, numbers that were just strong enough to stay ahead of the ice cold Vols.
This isn't the first time Tennessee has flatlined this season, though their defense has usually been good enough to survive it. But the Vols will go into the offseason with something very clear to work on: defense will always only take you so far - you can't go seven minutes without scoring against a good team like the Blue Raiders.
It was the end for Cameron Tatum, who wasn't able to duplicate his senior day performance, going 3 for 11 tonight. Tatum and Skylar McBee combined to go 1 of 10 from the arc - the Vols went 1 of 13 for the game, and just 19 of 30 at the free throw line. An improvement in either category would've made the difference.
Tennessee has to find something more consistent on offense to go to when teams sell out to take Stokes and Maymon away. We saw tonight how strong Tennessee can be inside...and we also saw that this team has to get Cuonzo Martin's motion offense fully installed this offseason, so the defense doesn't have to stand up to a total offensive shutdown.
Congratulations to MTSU. It was a disappointing end to a successful first year under Cuonzo Martin - more on that later. Tonight the Vols go home disappointed...and almost all of the players involved can hopefully take this memory and use it as motivation to grow in the offseason. We believe the Vols can be very good next season. To get there, Tennessee has to avoid the flatline.