The Bulldogs missed their first eight shots, allowing the Vols to build an early lead that eventually reached as much as 10 at 25-15. But Butler, one of the nation's most efficient offenses coming in, wouldn't stay cold forever: they would shoot 53.7% rest of the day, establishing a lead late in the first half they would never relinquish en route to a 94-86 victory in Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Tennessee didn't fold, and actually turned in one of their best performances of this young season. The #18 Bulldogs built an 11 point lead with 10:30 to play, but the Vols kept coming thanks to a strong shooting display of their own. It took Tennessee's last miss to drive their shooting percentage below 50.0% on the day at 49.2%. The three ball got it done for Tennessee early, but the bulk of today's offensive work was done by Kevin Punter: 27 points on 10 of 23 shooting, with a nice assist from Armani Moore (17 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks).
Playing without Robert Hubbs, it was really encouraging to see freshman Admiral Schofield step in and give the Vols 16 points on 6 of 7 (!) shooting and 7 rebounds. This may be the most significant long-term note from today's game. Butler took advantage of Kyle Alexander and Ray Kasongo when they got in, but there's a reason the Bulldogs are one of the best offenses in the nation.
Against that challenge, Tennessee just couldn't get enough stops down the stretch to get the game within one possession. The Vols had one possession down four with four to play, but Kevin Punter missed a three. Then, down five with less than three to play, the Vols had a tough traveling call go against Armani Moore, who then missed on consecutive attempts in traffic in the lane. When Butler scored to push the lead back to seven, Punter missed a tough shot as well, and that was that.
If the Vols can duplicate today's effort against good teams (and perhaps ones that aren't quite as strong offensively; other than Kentucky and maybe Vanderbilt this could be the best offense we see this season), add in Robert Hubbs, and continue to see their newcomers develop, the Vols can continue to be competitive and perhaps steal some wins against the better teams on their schedule. You have to like the way the Vols have played against George Washington and now Butler, even in coming up short in both games. Tennessee is back in action Wednesday against Florida Atlantic before getting another big road test next Saturday at Gonzaga.