The entire Tennessee starting five faced the media together this morning in Dallas, just one day before they face Wright State in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament.
Tennessee’s junior forward Admiral Schofield stole the show, taking a page out of Rick Barnes’ motivational playbook.
When asked about what has been the biggest surprise of the season to this point, Admiral took things down a different path than what was likely intended. “I think the biggest surprise was that we didn’t come out and compete against Kentucky,” Schofield said. “It wasn’t something that we could put on any person. It was a team effort. That first half really surprised — the work that we put in, we didn’t come out as the team that we are.”
Tennessee dug themselves into a 17 point hole at one point in the first half on Sunday as Kentucky capitalized on open looks. Tennessee hangs their hat on the defensive end and that effort just wasn’t there during the opening minutes.
“It’s kind of alarming because that’s a big stage. The SEC Championship game is probably going to be like what the NCAA Tournament is going to be like. We didn’t come out and perform in the first half. That bothered all of us. So we’re really focused on coming out and showing who we are and coming out and having fun.”
To their credit, they were able to battle back and slash the Kentucky lead to just five points before halftime. But there’s no doubt that the early hole cost them the game — and an SEC Tournament title.
There’s no time for looking back now, though. It’s do or die as Tennessee opens their NCAA Tournament with Wright State on Thursday afternoon. For Schofield, it’s just about keeping that underdog attitude and proving those who picked them to finish 13th in the SEC wrong.
“We’re a bunch of two and three stars sitting up here,” Schofield said as he pointed to his teammates. “What we’ve done this year is a testament to our hard work. At the end of the day, whatever you put in, you’ll reap the blessing. We’re going out to compete. We don’t care how many stars you have, we don’t care if you’re in a mock draft. We don’t care. Basketball is basketball.
Admiral is ready. I’m sure Rick Barnes is hoping that the rest of the team heard that message from Schofield loud and clear.