Just few days after a defensive battle in Thompson-Boling Arena, the Tennessee Volunteers (7-3, 0-0) found themselves in the middle of a shootout with the Cincinnati Bearcats (7-4, 0-0).
John Fulkerson led the team with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and the team shot 45.1% as a whole, but it wasn’t enough to best an efficient Cincinnati offense that shot 56.4% from the floor. Tre Scott led the way for the Bearcats with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
Tennessee also couldn’t overcome a plethora of mistakes, which included 14 total turnovers and 18 team fouls.
The Vols came out sluggish on offense, which allowed Cincy to climb out to an 8-2 lead in the first few minutes of the game. To make matters worse, Lamonte Turner picked up his second foul during that span and was forced to sit for a good chunk of the first half.
Tennessee was able to battle back and tie the game at 10 a few minutes later, thanks to solid defense and good inside play on offense. Davonte Gaines was fouled as he attempted a layup and hit both free throws to give the Vols a 12-10 lead with just over 14:00 left in the first half.
A Scott dunk tied it right back up at 12 on the next possession and the Bearcats jumped out to a 14-12 lead soon after, but Jordan Bowden drained a three that immediately put Tennessee back on top, 17-16. He then found Fulkerson for a dunk a few possessions later to grow the lead to 19-16 with 10:37 to go in the first half.
Both teams battled back and forth over the next few minutes, but turnovers prevented the Vols from taking a commanding lead. Keith Williams eventually tied it back up at 26 with a quick layup, but Drew Pember sunk his first shot of the game from about 13-feet out to put the Vols back up, 28-26.
Transition offense and the charity stripe were working in the Vols favor at this point in the game. The fact that the Vols were playing fast and aggressive was a good sign. Rick Barnes had harped on it before the game, and it looked as if his players received the memo.
But Jaevin Cumberland sunk back-to-back threes to the Bearcats back in front, 34-32. Scott then made back-to-back buckets of his own to put the Bearcats on a 10-0 run, while giving them a 38-32 lead. Cincinnati had also made eight shots in a row at this point, until Bowden hit a jumper to end the madness with 1:25 remaining in the first half.
Tennessee shot 54.2% from the floor in the first half, but it wasn’t enough as the Bearcats shot a season-best 64% from the floor in the process of building a 38-34 lead in the first half. Turnovers cost the Vols, too. They turned it over eight times, which gave the Bearcats extra possessions and extra chances for points.
The beginning of the second half didn’t start out well for the Vols. Cincinnati was able to press the Vols into more turnovers en route to building a 42-36 lead in the first three minutes. Turner also appeared to roll his ankle and was seen heading into the locker room, leaving the Vols without arguably their best player.
Cincinnati soon found itself in some foul trouble after both Jarran Cumberland and Chris Vogt picked up their fourth fouls within the first 5:00 of the second half. Both starters would have to sit on the bench for a good portion of the remainder of the game in order to avoid fouling out.
Yves Pons drained a three-pointer to put the Vols up, 47-46 with 12:35 left in the game and the Vols seemed to be finding their footing on offense. But as soon they began to look good, Cincinnati’s pressure forced another turnover. Scott was able to take advantage of a turnover and made an easy layup to put the Bearcats back up, 49-47 with a little under 12:00 to go.
Turner then returned to the game and sank a midrange jumper to tie the game up at 49, but Jaume Sorolla hit one of his two free throws to put the Bearcats back up, 50-49. Tennessee freshman Olivier Nkhamoua tipped a Turner shot attempt in to regain the lead on the next possession, but a Williams dunk and a Pons-miss-turned-Sorolla-bucket had the Bearcats back up, 54-51 with under 10:00 left in the game.
Tennessee simply couldn’t get anything done on offense, particularly in terms of 3-point shooting, and Cincinnati’s offense was the exact opposite. The Bearcats had come to life and were able to pull out to a 67-57 lead with under 5:00 to go. A Josiah James trey brought the Vols back within seven points, but a Cumberland jumper on the subsequent possession put Cincy back up, 69-60 with just 2:17 remaining in the game.
Tennessee would go on to lose, 78-66. The Vols are now (7-3) on the season and will host Jacksonville State (3-7) on Saturday, December 21. Tip-off is scheduled for 1PM EST.