An early 7-0 run on senior day gave hope, and when Stefan Moody picked up two early fouls the Vols had to feel great about their chances. But the well went dry for 14 minutes on Tennessee's end of the floor in the first half, and as the Vols failed to take advantage the Rebels pulled ahead for a nine point halftime lead. And when Moody returned, they pushed it to 19 by the first media timeout of the second half. The Rebels went on to win 83-60.
In the end the Vols fall to 6-12 in SEC play and 13-18 overall, now 1-4 without Kevin Punter. By winning percentage this is now Tennessee's worst season since Kevin O'Neill's final year in 1997, and if the Vols fail to win a game in the SEC Tournament it will become the worst since the Wade Houston days.
I'd still like to believe the Vols could have pushed at or near .500 had Punter been available these last five games, the end result looking similar to what we saw last year. But without Punter the offense has really struggled, and the same post problems continue to present themselves. Today 6'9" Sebastian Siaz had 23 points on 9 of 14 shooting and 10 rebounds, as the Vols simply had no answer for him inside.
Unless LSU wins at Kentucky and Auburn wins at Mississippi State, the Vols will be in the play-in game Wednesday night against the loser of the Auburn/Mississippi State game. Should they win there, the Vols would face the tournament's five seed on Thursday.
It was a tough day for the Vol seniors. Armani Moore finished with 13 points but six turnovers, Devon Baulkman had 18 points but struggled to get the three ball to drop, and Derek Reese added four points and five rebounds. Those three will go to Nashville to win or end their Tennessee careers next week. Robert Hubbs did play but did not score.
A season that's gotten noticeably more difficult without Punter will end in Nashville unless the Vols can conjure up the miraculous, made even more difficult by likely having to play an extra game with the loss today. The story will quickly change to how the Vols can replace the production of these four seniors as Rick Barnes and company bring in their first full recruiting class.