You know, they call it the Sweet Sixteen, but after last night’s overtime, season-ending loss to Purdue, I’m left with nothing but a sour taste in my mouth.
Sigh — well, here are some words on some things.
Hook, Cline and Sinker
If you’re looking for answers, there are several areas you can point to as to why Tennessee lost the game last night. Let’s start with Ryan Cline.
Cline, who is from Indiana, did his best Jimmy Chitwood impersonation last night, hitting six of his seven 3-pointers in the second half on his way to 27 total points. He shot 10-13 for the game and almost single-handedly fended off Tennessee’s inspired second-half run.
At the 5:26 mark, Tennessee took the lead with an Admiral Schofield 3. Cline then hit 3’s on four out of Purdue’s next seven possessions.
Before the game, Tennessee likely set out to shut down Carsen Edwards. And with good reason, too. He’s a good ballplayer. I doubt many people (except our very own Evan Winter — he called it) expected Ryan Cline to be the difference in the game, but that’s just kinda the ways things went for Tennessee this year.
Free Throws Prove Costly
This season, Tennessee was one of the better free-throw shooting teams in the country. They led the SEC and finished 16th in the country with a 76.4 percent average. The Vols finished 14-28 from the free-throw line against Purdue, notching a sub-60 percent mark for the first time this season. For some context, there were 13 games this season in which Tennessee shot better than 80 percent from the free throw line. This was an out-of-character performance at an inopportune time.
Admiral Schofield, who shot just above 70 percent from the line for most of the season, went 4-8 from the line and Jordan Bowden, who shot around 90 percent for most of the season, hit just four of his nine attempts.
Every Tennessee player who shot a free throw last night also missed at least one free throw. Kyle Alexander was one of the least consistent free throw shooters this season, hitting below 70 percent, but he went 3-4 from the line and had the team’s best percentage for the game (75).
Two-Faced Tennessee Strikes Again
Once again, Tennessee’s inability to play well for a full game was on display, and this time it cost them. Tennessee escaped Colgate and Iowa despite playing one half of good basketball, but Purdue made the Vols pay for their inconsistency.
The Boilermakers got just about everything they wanted out of the offensive sets early in the game, as their motion and screens left the Vols looking listless for the first 20 minutes.
I don’t want to take anything away from Tennessee’s valiant come back, because it was gritty and it was determined and it was all the other buzz words people use when a team plays hard but still loses. It just wasn’t enough, and unfortunately, that’s what goes down in the history books.
This has been an incredibly fun basketball season, and the guys deserve recognition for reigniting the fervor for Tennessee hoops. By all accounts, they’re wonderful humans off the court, and Rick Barnes’ media policy has allowed the fans to really get to know them beyond just the box scores. That’s endeared them further to the fans, and it’s also probably got a lot to do with this loss being so tough to stomach.
It was an emotional see-saw of a season, with high highs and gut-wrenching lows. There are no moral victories, but I’m happy they went down swinging, in form true to this team’s nature.