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Tennessee Basketball: Suddenly struggling Vols looking for answers

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Gut check time for this group.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Disappointing, immature, awful, egos, inconsistent — these were just a few of the words that Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes used to describe his team after they were upset by the Auburn Tigers on Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.

After a 9-2 start to the season, the Volunteers have now fallen to 9-4 overall and 0-2 in SEC play. For a team that showed so much early season progress, this last week has been a tough pill to swallow.

“The team I saw play tonight, I haven’t seen. We got a lead and we started settling,” Barnes said in his post-game press conference. “We weren’t doing anything as a team. I’ve said for three weeks that we still have to mature. I still don’t think we understand how to play basketball.”

Tennessee held a 12 point lead with five minutes to play in the first half. By halftime, they were down six points. That’s unacceptable and it’s becoming a trend for this team.

“Defensively we were awful,” Barnes said. “We didn’t rebound.”

The Vols were outworked by Auburn on the offensive glass. That was the difference in the game. 22 offensive rebounds gave the Tigers too many chances to right their wrongs. They took advantage of that, scoring 28 second chance points. That was 10 more than Tennessee, which ultimately decided this one.

“After the game we talked about being mentally tough for 40 minutes,” Barnes said. “We’ve got some guys with some egos I think, who want to show they can do some other things as opposed to their job. Our guys aren’t doing what they need to do.”

Vols’ star forward Grant Williams took ownership of the loss on the boards. “You don’t want to be out rebounded. That’s something that you’ve got to pride yourself on. If they’re out rebounding you, they’re out hustling you.”

Williams was 8-15 shooting, adding 22 points on the night, but he was still upset with his performance on the boards. Williams agreed with Barnes’ assessment of the team, adding that he himself was still immature.

To me, Williams is being too hard on himself here. I know he’s the leader of this team, but still, others around him have to step up. James Daniel and Jordan Bowden each went 0-4 from the field.

Tennessee just isn’t going to win many games when each of those guys contribute nothing offensively. We’ve seen several pieces of this roster emerge throughout the season, but they seem like they can’t put it all together.

It’s incredibly frustrating to watch, but the Vols are going to have to figure something out quickly. 17th ranked Kentucky comes to town on Saturday night. A trip to Vanderbilt is on tap for next Tuesday, then the 11th ranked Texas A&M Aggies will pay a visit to Knoxville the following Saturday.

The SEC is no joke this season. Tennessee and Rick Barnes are going to have to find some answers fast.