Tennessee led 16-4 in the first half, then opened up a 48-33 lead with 14 minutes to go when Alabama elected to double team Kevin Punter at the top of the key and the Vols splashed five threes in less than four minutes with good ball movement. The Crimson Tide, with a quiet crowd and a 1-5 start in SEC play, were on life support.
And yet Tennessee let them come back, not once but twice. A 14-0 Bama run came when the Vols missed their next 15 shots. From the 14 minute mark to Robert Hubbs' and-one at 5:27 to break that streak the Vols also turned it over three times and had 17 of those on the night.
Still, Hubbs' play kept Alabama behind. Kevin Punter added two free throws - the Vols shot just five all night - then hit a jumper to put Tennessee back up eight at 55-47 with 4:18 to go.
And then everything fell apart.
Alabama guard Retin Obasohan went into full-on attack mode, and Tennessee's defense had no answers. He made Bama's next three shots, the final one tying the game at 55 with 1:46 to go. An ill-advised foul by Admiral Schofield gave Bama two free throws and their first lead since 4-2 at 57-55 with 1:24 to play. Derek Reese tipped in a Kevin Punter miss to tie it again at 1:12.
Credit Alabama's Arthur Edwards for sticking a contested three to put the Tide up 60-57 with 42 seconds to go. When Punter couldn't respond, it was Obasohan again in transition with an and-one. And suddenly, an Alabama team that had played from behind all game was up six with 17 seconds left. The Vols missed and didn't foul, and Tennessee has by far its worst loss of the season.
Vanderbilt, which beat Florida tonight, was an ugly affair for the Vols but also a team with championship talent and a particularly terrible match-up for the small ball Vols. Alabama was tied for last in the SEC at 1-5 and doesn't hurt you with size. And they erased a 15 point lead with 14 minutes to go, then an eight point lead with four minutes to go. Tennessee scored nine points in the game's final 14 minutes.
There is nothing good to say about this one. Just an infuriating finish in a win Tennessee should have had and certainly could have used. The Vols drop to 10-10 (3-5) and will be at TCU Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Barnes: The players said it was complacency. That's a nice way of saying you didn't compete.— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) January 27, 2016
Barnes: "When you give up three straight drives to the basket, you're just not competing."— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) January 27, 2016
Barnes: We didn't deserve to win that game. We didn't.— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) January 27, 2016