We want to believe the Vols are an "any given outcome on any given night" team, owning wins over Kentucky, Florida, and South Carolina along with several other close losses and a number of blown leads. But after falling at a Missouri team that hasn't won a game in a month and was getting beat by an average of 15.1 points in league play, the larger takeaway is what this Tennessee team is largely unable to do on the road. When the Vols beat Auburn by 26 on Tuesday there was hope they'd be able to do the same or at least get the win at Missouri. Instead the Tigers became the latest team to jump on Tennessee early. And though the Vols battled back late, it was never enough to get it back to one possession.
Missouri won in part because its front line took complete advantage of Tennessee. Earlier in the season the Vols were playing Kyle Alexander less and swarming the post with their entire defense, which led to plenty of looks from three for the opposition. In the last couple of weeks the Vols have elected to go with the young freshman in the post and help less, hoping for production now on top of promise later. But today Missouri's Ryan Rosburg destroyed the Vols down low: 8 of 9 from the field for 21 points. Add in 17 more on 6 of 8 shooting from 6'7" Kevin Puryear, and the Tigers torched the Vols with 54.5% from the floor.
What kept Tennessee in it were 20 Missouri turnovers. The Tiger lead fluctuated from 14 to 4 throughout the second half, but when they weren't beating themselves they proved they were more than capable of scoring on the Vols easily. Meanwhile Tennessee finally did beat itself at the free throw line: 14 of 24 (58.3%) for the league's best free throw shooting team, including missing the front end on three one-and-ones. Add in just 8 of 27 from the three point line (29.6%), and you get this.
Kevin Punter had 21 but shot just 5 of 13 from the floor. Devon Baulkman added 17 and Shembari Phillips 10, but the Vols got only six from a foul-plagued Armani Moore and only four points from its entire bench (two from Hubbs, two from Mostella, zero from Schofield, Reese, and Kasongo). Against what was one of the worst teams we've played all year coming in, the Vols turned in one of their worst performances.
So instead of being able to try to talk ourselves into a .500 finish in league play and an NIT bid, Tennessee at 12-13 (5-7) now faces a Jeckyll and Hyde reputation between Knoxville and elsewhere, and with Rupp Arena next I wouldn't look for that to change. Barring a sudden identity change, Tennessee's goal now becomes avoiding Wednesday in the SEC Tournament, where they currently have a two game advantage on Mississippi State and Auburn.
This was a disappointing day, and after road losses at Alabama, TCU, and now Missouri, it's unfortunately what we've come to expect. Here's hoping by the time the Vols return home next Saturday against LSU there's still some cause for optimism in Knoxville.