No Admiral Schofield due to a violation of team rules, no Jordan Bone with a foot issue, and an early 9-1 lead for the preseason #5 Oregon Ducks made this one look disastrous for the Vols. But for the second day in a row, the young Vols shook off a slow start and put a real scare into a Top 15 team.
Detrick Mostella did the damage in the first half, scoring 18 points in the first 20 minutes as the Vols built a stunning eight point lead. Oregon worked it back to a tie game at halftime, then built their own 11 point lead. But the Vols slowly worked it back, much of it at the free throw line where they finished 18 of 24. Mostella would add only four in the second half before fouling out, putting a crunch-time lineup of Lamonte Turner, Shembari Phillips, Jordan Bowden, Robert Hubbs, and John Fulkerson on the floor.
Fulkerson was everywhere today, getting early minutes with Kyle Alexander in foul trouble and then earning the opportunity to stay with his play. J.P. Prince, look out: 12 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks, 2 assists, 2 steals, 4 fouls. He also contested a number of shots in helping keep the Ducks at 34.0% from the floor today. Oregon went nearly 10 minutes without making a field goal at the end of the second half, allowing Tennessee to push it back to even thanks to a three and a tough two on consecutive possessions from Lamonte Turner, then two big free throws from Shembari Phillips with 30 seconds left. The Vols forced a shot clock violation on Oregon’s final possession of regulation.
Tennessee got the lead on a Hubbs dunk from a pretty pass from Fulkerson to open overtime, but wouldn’t lead again. Jordan Bowden splashed a three to tie the game with 2:18 to play, and Fulkerson threw down a baseline slam to tie it again with 45 seconds to play.
And then with 22 seconds to play, Oregon’s preseason All-American decided he’d seen enough, and stepped into an NBA three from the top of the key and buried it. Dillon Brooks’ 17 points led the Ducks, and the Vols would get only a contested Lamonte Turner three from there before the Ducks rebounded and hit one free throw with 1.6 seconds left to seal it.
You tip your cap to that shot from Brooks, but it’s frustrating for the baby Vols to have been this close against a really good team but come away empty. The teams combined for 46 turnovers and both had only nine assists; there wasn’t much offense to go around once teams got into their sets that didn’t come from the free throw line. But seeing these young Vols play such great defense for such a long period of time was very encouraging. And they actually out-rebounded the Ducks 42-37; Fulkerson carried the load, but Mostella had nine and Hubbs eight.
The Vols will almost certainly get Chaminade tomorrow, a free win over a Division II squad. Losing this one cost the Vols another opportunity against UConn tomorrow and sends the team to 1-3 on the year. But there is a lot to like from what we saw today, especially without Schofield and Bone. We’ll see how often that crunch-time lineup shows up going forward, the first signs of separation for this young roster, and how Rick Barnes chooses to platoon Alexander and Fulkerson going forward. Tomorrow’s game will be the last before a nine-day break: Tennessee will host Josh Pastner and Georgia Tech on Saturday, December 3.
They didn’t get the win, but Tennessee has a chance to leave Maui feeling good about itself. This young bunch could be more exciting to watch than we thought.