You just expected the shots to start falling at some point.
It wasn’t like Tennessee wasn’t getting the looks, but the shots weren’t going down for the Vols on Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena. That was the ultimate deciding factor in Tennessee’s 51-47 loss to Memphis on Saturday.
It was eerily similar to the Florida State matchup from a couple of weeks back. Tennessee played a terrible offensive game, but still had opportunities to make things right down the stretch. But just exactly as that game went against the Seminoles, Tennessee missed those opportunities late.
Jordan Bowden scored five points. Lamonte Turner scored five points. They were a combined 3-21 from the field, going 1-11 from three-point range. To be blunt, Tennessee isn’t winning many games with that output from those two senior guards.
“We had some looks that we would love to have every night,” Barnes said after the game. “But when your three top scorers go 6-for-30, it’s tough.”
Down the stretch, it was painfully obvious that Tennessee didn’t have a go-to option. So many times last year Barnes was able to lean on Grant Williams when he needed that tough bucket late. It was Admiral Schofield wanting the ball in crunch time. It was even Lamonte Turner draining big shots from long range. But Turner didn’t have it this afternoon, and neither did Bowden — and it’s not the first time we’ve seen that story this year.
Under no circumstance can Barnes have these two going missing like they did today. Tennessee doesn’t beat Murray State earlier in the year without an explosion from Bowden. They were fortunate to be in the spot they were in against Memphis, who struggled shooting themselves.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Barnes said when asked about Bowden and Turner lacking consistency. “I trust them. I have confidence in them. But they’ve moved into new roles and they have to figure it out too. And as a group we’ll have to figure it out.”
As improved as Yves Pons is, he’s not a guy that is going to take over offensively and create. John Fulkerson isn’t that guy either. Josiah James can be, but isn’t there yet. Rick Barnes needs his seniors to step up to the plate and deliver consistently as primary scorers. Unfortunately, neither Turner or Bowden have done yet that in their careers.
But times have changed and they’re both in new roles. The problem for Tennessee is that their two most important players have had a history of inconsistent shooting. That’s going to create some losses you aren’t supposed to take, perhaps along with some wins you aren’t supposed to get along the way.
We probably know who these guys are at this point — and it’s probably not changing. That’s why the development of guys like Josiah James, Yves Pons, Olivier Nkamhoua and John Fulkerson is so vital.
If Tennessee wants to make any sort of postseason run, the game simply can’t come down to whether or not Bowden or Turner are hitting jumpers on any given day. But unfortunately, it feels like that’s where the Vols are at right now.