I'm going to try to keep this short, because we play again in like 12 hours and because it's Thanksgiving, at least it was until fifteen minutes ago here in the east. But it's getting harder to be thankful around Knoxville right now.
Tennessee lost 78-70 in a game it trailed by double figures for most of the second half playing a team it was so much better than its own head coach not only told a postgame reporter it was okay to call tonight's result a surprise, but that he too was surprised.
Don't let all of our bitterness get in the way of congratulating UTEP where they're due. The Miners finished at 58% from the floor, a percentage they maintained for most of the night, and hit a bunch of tough shots over the top of Vol defenders. Tip the cap to their kids.
Tennessee meanwhile was something beyond the word "struggle" on offense. The Vols shot 34.9% from the floor, which is bad enough. The Vols went 23 of 39 (59.0%) at the line, negating the huge advantage guys like Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon give them on the glass because we can't finish at the rim and then we can't hit the free throws. And facing a triangle and two defense, Tennessee spent most of the game looking like UTEP was speaking a foreign language. When the Vols finally figured it out and got Jordan McRae back involved - he scored the game's first points then didn't hit another field goal until inside the eight minute mark to play - it was too little, too late. Even when UT's full court press forced turnover after turnover, the Vols couldn't finish at the rim, couldn't make free throws, or gave the ball back via charge calls.
The specific names and situations may change, but in general what plagued Tennessee tonight is the same thing that has plagued Cuonzo Martin's teams in each of the last two non-conference portions. It's frustrating, it's alarming, and it's depressing. We should be better than this, and we shouldn't be struggling with the same old same old, yet here we are, two losses in five games and a rematch with Xavier coming at 1:00 PM ET Friday. You only get so many losses and we're already two in the hole in the only two games we really had a chance to lose.
Plain and simple, either the Vols figure out how to play the way they've played in February in November and beyond, or we'll be home again in March. There is zero excuse for this team to struggle as much as it does offensively with so many of the same pieces on the floor. There is no reason to have struggled so much against a triangle and two tonight. There is no reason to get so little from so much talent.
The Vols can't wait to get better, and neither can Cuonzo Martin. There's still plenty of season left, but no excuse for the way UT has played in the games that matter.
This team is capable of more. We need to start playing like it.
We'll do it again tomorrow at 1:00 against Xavier on something called AXS.TV, then Saturday against either Wake Forest or USC. Maybe tomorrow will be better.