A game of runs in the first half ended with Tennessee up 30-19 at the break. The Vols were sticking threes and forcing turnovers, ending the first half on a 25-3 run. Then Tennessee extended that lead to 13 points, up 45-32 with 13:47 to go after Josh Richardson buried the second of two straight buzzer-beating threes.
And then Vanderbilt went 13 of 13 from the floor to finish the game.
Tennessee gave up 19 points in the first half and 54 points in the second half, 41 points in the last 14 minutes. They gave away a 13 point lead in five minutes, then watched Vanderbilt push it to as many as nine before a Tennessee comeback attempt fell short.
Wade Baldwin IV talked trash about Tennessee and their fans before the game, and the Vols allowed him to back it up: 13 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists. In the midst of the run Vanderbilt didn't just splash several of their 13 threes on the night, they also dunked on the Vols multiple times, completely breaking Tennessee defensively. And on the other end, Tennessee's offense had the same few options they've showed all year: Josh Richardson or Armani Moore takes a contested shot, or they settle for volume threes and make very few of them (8 of 26, 30.8%).
It is a testament to Donnie Tyndall and this team that we haven't had a game like this yet, showing up in the 27th contest of the year on the 26th of February. But Vanderbilt was 5-9 in the SEC, playing in Knoxville. This wasn't Kentucky. So in the same way this team and this coaching staff get to wear the overachievements of the early part of the year and the respectable competitiveness of the last few weeks, they have to wear tonight's embarrassing final 14 minutes.
Tennessee has who they have, and they've gotten more from them than most thought they would this year. But they've also gotten more predictable and less efficient on the offensive end: Tennessee has averaged 20.1 three pointers attempted per game in what is now a 2-8 stretch, compared to 16.2 in their 14-5 start. A team that shoots 33.2% from the arc has no business taking that many, but that's often what Tennessee's offense turns into.
How much of that is coaching, and how much is talent? I'm not sure, and I'm not sure how much either of this pieces are going to change next year. The Vols will lose Josh Richardson and really cannot recruit right now at the level necessary to play tournament basketball. Donnie Tyndall continues to hover in the fog with the NCAA's investigation of Southern Miss. And finishing the year this way will not help his cause among the people in Knoxville, especially with such a demoralizing and embarrassing loss to a rival on the TBA floor.
Tennessee takes its season to Gainesville Saturday against Florida, another usual tournament suspect with even less to play for this season. There's still time to finish this season in a positive way. But the way the Vols played tonight, it can't be considered the most likely option.
This team needs to finish strong, and its coach will take all the help he can get. I'm eager to see how Donnie gets them back from here, in the few remaining opportunities.
Congrats to Vanderbilt. Tennessee will try again in less than 48 hours.