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Unpacking a brutal Tennessee loss to Purdue in the Sweet 16

A few thoughts.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Purdue vs Tennessee Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee fell 99-94 in overtime to Purdue in yet another wild NCAA Tournament matchup. This game had a little bit of everything, but above all else, Purdue took advantage of Tennessee’s proven weaknesses. Here’s what stood out.

Ryan Cline was the difference in the game.

Another game, another Tennessee opponent going off for a career day shooting the basketball. It was a theme for the Vols this year and it showed up when it mattered the most. Ryan Cline absolutely bailed Purdue out against the Vols, coming up with answer after answer down the stretch.

Tennessee ate into the lead in the second half, eventually going on a 14-0 to claim it for themselves. But Cline was there to keep the Boilermakers breathing, drilling three after three. He ended up 7-10 on the night from deep, scoring 27 points. He averaged 11 points per game on the season coming into this one. That was pretty clearly the difference and the edge Purdue needed. For Cline, it was a season high in points.

Cline continued a trend of Tennessee getting absolutely annihilated from three-point line late in the year. From Auburn part one, to Auburn part two, to Jordan Burns — Tennessee was consistently crushed from long range down the stretch.

The most frustrating part was that they seemed to be playing decent defense against Purdue. Carsen Edwards made several contested shots and attracted a lot of attention, which in turn freed up Cline. Edwards was always going to get his, but Cline couldn’t do what he did tonight.

Neither side could hit their free throws.

A lot of the reaction so far has been centered around free throw shooting. Tennessee was a dreadful 4-13 from the charity stripe in the first half, allowing Purdue to build a 12 point lead at the break. Tennessee improved to finish at 14-28 from the line, but it’s tough to think about what could have been had they just hit one more.

What Tennessee fans aren’t mentioning is what Purdue did at the line, however. The Boilermakers matched the Vols’ incompetence at the line, going 16-33 (48.5%). At the end of the day, the stat evened out. But it was a strange wrinkle in what turned out to be one of the wildest games of the NCAA Tournament.

Inconsistencies caught up to Tennessee

A fast start against Colgate, a Tennessee collapse, then a strong close.

An incredible start against Iowa to build a 25 point lead, then a total collapse followed by an overtime win.

Tonight was the opposite. Tennessee came out flat, lacking that defensive intensity that we saw to start the Iowa game. They weren’t getting to the rim and they were settling for contested jump shots. On the other hand, Purdue got what they wanted. Carsen Edwards hit just about everything he tried while Cline was red hot as well. The Boilermakers were crushing the Vols on the boards, winning the rebounding battle 18-8 at one point in the first half.

In the second half, it was a different story. The Vols flipped their switch and started winning defensively, which translated to the offensive end. They turned that energy into a 14-0 run, which brought them all the way to the lead.

THAT’S the team that could go on and win a title. That’s the team Tennessee needed to be from the opening tip. They weren’t, which is why they’re headed back to Knoxville tonight.