In many ways, this game was similar to more Tennessee-Kentucky games in years past than I care to remember: the Vols play toe-to-toe with a great team for about 32 minutes, but don't have enough to stay with them down the stretch. The Vols responded from a six point halftime hole to tie the score at 45 on Cameron Tatum's potential three-point play with 15:27 to play. Duke surged to an eight point lead, but the Vols battled it back to two at 55-53 with 9:27 to play.
But in the final eight minutes, Duke made tough shots, got tough calls, and won a couple of key battles for loose balls that led to points. Meanwhile, Tennessee continued to struggle at the rim and from the three point line, where they were the first Vol team since the Kevin O'Neill era to put up a goose egg from the arc.
A competitive loss to Duke isn't the worst thing in the world, and you can make the case that this Tennessee team showed up just as well against the national elite as their predecessors. The Vols fought hard throughout, and the fact that they got no points from the arc and played most of the first half without Trae Golden (13 points in 20 minutes) and still competed is a positive thing. Jeronne Maymon got to the rim, and even though he often failed to finish there (5 of 14), he was a presence and finished with another double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Jordan McRae's game gets progressively better the closer he gets to the basket, as he missed some ill-advised jumpers but repeatedly found success at the rim to finish with 11.
The Vols did a good job in many phases, winning the rebounding battle and shooting 19 of 24 (79.2%) from the line. Credit Duke with shooting 48.1% from the floor with several big shots from Austin Rivers (18) and Ryan Kelly (17).
Will Tennessee still be able to play consistently well against the best of college basketball? We won't have to wait long to find out, and we won't have to worry about motivation in the aftermath of this loss: the Vols get Tiger High tomorrow at 2:00 PM ET. The result wasn't what we wanted, but it was a good effort to begin with. We'll see where it goes from here.