After a nightmarish first half, Tennessee staged a second half rally against #8 Gonzaga, but the ‘Zags woke up late to end the Vols’ dreams of an upset.
A Tale of Two Halves
Game but undersized, Tennessee struggled on offense in the first half, shooting a miserable 23.5% from the floor. Gonzaga starting center Phil Karnowski blocked two Tennessee shots into the stands, using every inch of his 7’1 frame to bully the smaller Vols into turnovers and ugly shots. Tennessee’s poor shooting and offensive turnovers helped spur Gonzaga’s quick transition offense, with the Bulldogs shooting more than 58% in the first half.
In the second half, a smaller and quicker Tennessee lineup put pressure on the larger and slower Bulldogs. As Gonzaga began to pick up personal fouls, the Vols used improved shot selection and floor spacing to close the gap. Beginning around the 7 minute mark, Tennessee went on a 10-3 run to close within single digits. With Robert Hubbs III playing at the four, the Vols were running under and around Gonzaga’s defense. A big Detrick Mostella three-pointer punctuated the rally as the Vols closed to 68-61.
Gonzaga replied with a pair of free throws to push the lead to 70-61, but the Vols refused to go away as Lamonte Turner buried a critical three-pointer to bring it back to 70-64. Tennessee played tough defense and Jordan Bowden scored to bring the Vols within 4 at 70-66, but the Vols could get no closer.
As the minutes wound down, Tennessee ran out of magic, with the Bulldogs using excellent free-throw shooting and defense to hold-off the Vols, finally extending the lead to an insurmountable 10 points, 86-76.
Gonzaga’s Williams-Gross led all scorers with 20 points on 7-12 shooting, while Mostella paced the Vols with 17 points on 6-15 shooting. Hubbs and Grant Williams joined Mostella in double figures, but the Vols undoubtedly missed injured John Fulkerson. Lew Evans and Shembari Phillips combined for a putrid 2-15 from the floor.
Rick Barnes once again seemed to make adjustments to get the Vols into striking distance, but he still has work to do in recruiting.
The Vols will be back in action on Thursday night on the road against ETSU.