We knew this was a good team, Oakland. Playing Michigan State close, playing a tough schedule, Pre-Season Mid-Major player of the year in Kieth Benson. But Tennessee is better. This Tennessee team is mature, they are poised, they are scrappy. They're clutch, they're tough. And they were.
For 32 minutes and 43 seconds.
The first half was tense for the first 13, with the score tied at 31 with 6:50 left. Kieth Benson for Oakland put on an absolute clinic, scoring 20 points in the first half and hitting 2 three pointers. He had 18 of those 31 points when the game was tied, and with Scotty Hopson struggling to do anything at the rim that was good (he would finish with a season low 7 points on just 1 of 7 shooting) Tennessee had to turn to their other players for a source.
And they got it. Tennessee finished the first half on a 19-8 run that had Oakland's ridiculous 70% FG shooting fall to 50%. The guards were playing amazing, Tobias showed up, and Williams was doing work. Tennessee came out of the second half well enough, and with 14:40 to go Tennessee led 61-48 and everything looked good. Even though Scottie only had 2 points up to that point, Mel Goins, Cameron Tatum, Tobias Harris, and Brian Williams all were in double figures. Then the wheels came off.
For better than 4 minutes between 14:40 left to 10:18, Tennessee scored all of 3 points and the game was 65-64 Vols after a pair of horrible-looking shots by a European Player who apparently didn't find himself having to take money from a professional team to sit on their roster and play some before he came over here from college. Funny how a lot of teams not named Kentucky seem to not have this Kanter problem, huh? But in any case, if those 4 minutes were the worst offensive stretch Tennessee had, they probably would have won this game.
With 7:17 left to go Tennessee had extended the lead back to 8 and Hopson was finally getting going, scoring 5 points in that three minute span and ending it hitting a field goal to give the Vols a 76-68 lead. They would not score again at all until there was two minutes left, and by that point they had lost this game. Oakland ripped off a 13-0 run in which the Vols couldn't stop fouling or stop the offensive rebounds, and for a Tennessee team that has managed to be great on the glass, they got out-rebounded 23-18 total in the second half, and I've yet to see a rebounding difference of 5 that meant so much, and a Tennessee team that went 12-12 at the charity stripe in the first half was reduced to 10-19 in the second, and Brian Williams was unable to get in done when it mattered, hitting only 2-6 in the final minutes.
It's hard to find a spot the Vols did good at in the second half: they ended up shooting 34% from the field, were 0-10 from the 3-point line -- and many of those were wide-open looks from Cameron Tatum or Skylar McBee, both of whom need to hit those shots for this Tennessee team to succeed consistently against a good team. The Vol's defense was porous, letting the Grizzlythings shoot 57% in the second half and 13-20 from inside the magic arc.
A Tennessee team that has prided itself on having that great 6th man -- whether it be JP Prince one year or Cameron Tatum last year, the Vols have a serious problem scoring the ball when the starters aren't out there. Tennessee's bench only contributed 10 points to the Grizzly's 21, and whether or not Marquette transfer Jeronne Maymon who I suppose might be able to play when I'll be down in Charlotte cheering for our guys to bounce back this Friday or Swipa are the answer might just determine how good we do, since right now Mc3, Golden, and Fields are just not producing like they have got to when they are on the floor. Golden was the best of those backing up Melvin Goins (who earns Player of the Game for us with a great 16 point, 6 assist, 4 steal, 1 TO performance), but our bench played 56 minutes, scored 10 points. and only had 5 rebounds.
But so we move on. We'll likely drop out of the polls after this loss, knowing how crazy some people are, but the top-10 felt good while it lasted. I certainly hope our boys enjoyed the taste of it, and come out hungry hungry hungry for the next one. If our clearance team can get our depth restored, this will be a better basketball team against guys who have talented interior play, and make no mistake that Oakland qualifies as that.