Credit Chris for saying this game was the Cuonzo Martin Era in a nutshell, though I hope the next few weeks change that perception. Tennessee fell behind early and stayed there, down as many as 12 in the first few minutes of the second half. The Vols rallied, tying the game at 53-53, then fell behind again thanks to a big three from Dai-Jon Parker. Down three with the ball under two to play the Vols failed to convert, then gave up a huge three from Rod Odom with 49 seconds left. True to Cuonzo's form, just when you think it's the dagger the Vols fight back: UT used a Vanderbilt turnover and the missed front end of a pair of one-and-ones to have the ball down two with 16 seconds to play. Cuonzo didn't take a timeout, but Josh Richardson got a good look at the lane and took it.
What we can say for sure is James Siakam swiped at Richardson and didn't get a clean block. It certainly looked to me and a majority of the UT media like Siakam got Richardson's arm pretty good. But alas, no call, and Vandy went on to hit two free throws and win 64-60.
The narrative isn't and won't be the call we didn't get. It will again, unfortunately, be Cuonzo, who is winning just enough to keep us on the bubble but not enough to keep himself out of the employment conversation. Tennessee falls to 14-8 (5-4), missing a chance to get another quality road win. Instead Tennessee's RPI shrinks back down to 49, the Vols fall further behind the leaders in the SEC, and it appears to be bubble time in Tennessee again.
Consider, after what should be a win against South Carolina in Knoxville on Saturday, the Vols will play Florida and at Missouri back to back and will probably be underdogs in both. Two losses there would leave the Vols at 15-10 (6-6) with six to play, and then you're talking about potentially having to win out, again.
Many will think it's over after tonight, but true to form there's still plenty of drama left in Cuonzo and this season. Tennessee's new 1-3-1 zone got ooped on thrice in the second half en route to a 52.2% night from the Commodores, and one of the main reasons this thing was close is Vanderbilt's 40% night behind the arc was tempered by its 58% night at the free throw line. The Vols produced just six turnovers and Darius Thompson did not score, though he did have a 5/1 assist/turnover ratio. Tennessee owned the glass again but just didn't get a good shooting night from anyone other than Jarnell Stokes and Josh Richardson; Jordan McRae was 6 of 18 and Antonio Barton was 2 of 8 off the bench. This team needs several cylinders firing to win, and in these losses we keep getting only one superstar and not enough role players going.
It's not over, not at all. But the Vols are running out of losses. So now we'll see if this narrative really holds true down the stretch, as the Vols enter the last nine games...where Cuonzo has gone 8-1 in consecutive years. If the Vols put together that kind of finish again this year, everything will be just fine.
First stop is a quick tune-up against South Carolina, 1-8 in league play and coming to Knoxville on Saturday. No better opponent to get a run started again, with the Gators close behind.
Let's get the next one. Go Vols.