Facing old foes is never easy and the Vols learned this fact the hard way against former head coach Cuonzo Martin.
The Vols went on the road to face off against Martin and the Missouri Tigers on Wednesday night, riding a three-game win streak in both regular season play and SEC play.
Despite the Vols recent success, they remained a one-point underdog and unfortunately this was not a sucker bet. Anyone who has watched Missouri (as well as a Martin-coached team) knew that the matchup would not be an easy one for Tennessee.
Junior Kevin Puryear led the Tigers in scoring with 12 points on 3/5 shooting from the floor, but more importantly, he hit all six of his free throws on the night.
The Tigers were able to pull off the victory using tough, hard-nosed defense and outside shooting while forcing Tennessee off their game by playing physical basketball.
Kyle Alexander scored first for the Vols to get the ball rolling and Admiral Schofield made a nice layup a few possessions later to give Tennessee a 5-0 lead. Missouri did not score their first field goal until well over four minutes into the game.
The sluggish offensive performance continued for the Tigers, but the same could not be said for Tennessee. After Mizzou's first bucket, the Vols would go on to hit three straight 3-pt shots in four possessions in order to build the largest lead for Tennessee, 17-9.
But one main trait of any Martin-coached team, it is that they are tough and do not quit. Mizzou would go on a 6-0 run to bring the score within one possession, 17-15.
The first half was a physical display of defense and interior play - and the Vols struggled again defending in the paint. The Tigers excelled at taking away Tennessee's inside game and forced them to take multiple outside shots - which resulted in a less-than-stellar 3/12 shooting from downtown after starting the game 3/3.
Tennessee was fortunate that Missouri did not make any 3-pt shots in the first half, which is crazy considering how they led the SEC in 3-pt percentage coming into the game. The Vols would have certainly given up the lead if the Tigers were even halfway on their game.
Things didn't start off well for the second half, as the Vols watched Mizzou jump out to a 34-27 lead after compiling a 9-0 run. The Tigers finally hit their first 3-pt shot of the game during the run after missing their first ten shots from beyond the arc.
But the Vols answered right back with a 9-2 run that included their first made 3-pt shot since the first ten minutes of the game to tie the game, 36-36.
The Tigers saved their best for last, however, using a 13-2 run to get out to a 53-43 lead - the largest lead between either team for the game. All of a sudden, the Vols looked like a beaten team.
Some major inside rebounding/offensive play and great effort brought the Vols back within four, 53-49 with just a tad over four minutes left to play in the game. Despite being owned in the second half from behind the arc, the Vols were still in the game.
Great defense by the Vols gave the Tigers a shot-clock violation with just over three minutes left to go. Could the Vols capitalize and bring the game within a possession?
The answer was a resounding "no" as Grant Williams missed the ensuing jumper, but the Vols were able to get a fortunate on call on the next play via an offensive foul call on Tilmon.
The call keep the game at a one-possession game and then a beautiful assist from Williams to Alexander brought the game within a single point, 53-52. Mizzou had not scored a single point in over five minutes of play at this point.
But that changed on the next possession after Puryear hit both of his free throws to extend the lead back to three points, 55-52.
The Vols were able to score on the next possession and get a stop by forcing a bad shot by Porter on defense. The Vols looked like they had a great play to take the lead, but Williams threw an errant pass to turn the ball over and give the ball back to Mizzou.
Clean play on defense gave the Vols an unusual advantage in this situation. Usually at this point, most teams are either in the bonus or double-bonus, resulting in any type of foul creating an opportunity for the opposing teams to make free throws. Since the Vols had yet to reach either bonus, Mizzou was given another possession instead of a chance at free points.
Mizzou led by just one point, 55-54 and it was their turn to inbound the ball from under their own goal. The pass was successful, but the Vols were able to trap and double team Robertson in order to force the Tigers to take a timeout.
The Vols fouled Geist with under 15 seconds left and the 70% free-throw shooter sunk both of his shots to stretch the lead back to three, 57-54.
The foul was questionable due to the fact that the Vols had Geist pinned in the corner on the sideline. One has to think that the Vols could've either allowed Geist to attempt an off-balance, difficult, corner shot or regain his balance and drive in for the mismatch against Alexander.
On top of the questionable defense, came terrible offense. Once the Vols received the ball on their next possession, they took over 10 seconds to get the ball in scoring position, before being fouled by Mizzou. And lo and behold, Daniel III missed one of the free throws to keep the Vols down by three.
The Vols were then forced to foul Mizzou on the next possession and the Tigers were able to put the Vols away after Puryear sunk both free throws to put the Tigers back up by four, 59-55.
Tennessee got the ball back down four with just over four seconds to play and watched as their three-game win streak came to an end at the hands of their former coach.