Sometimes, a win can feel like a loss — or at least leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. That’s exactly what Tennessee did to us all on Tuesday night, nearly blowing what was a 13 point lead with just a few minutes remaining in the game.
Vanderbilt quietly closed the gap, then capitalized on more sloppy late-game play from the Volunteers to make it a two point game with just under ten seconds to play. Jordan Bowden was able to put the game away at the free throw line, but the fact that Tennessee was even in that position is just the latest example of their inability to close.
Rick Barnes called his team’s effort ridiculous and pathetic. He questioned their basketball IQ. He was understandably frustrated, so in the locker room after the game, he stepped aside and let two other voices deliver the message — Admiral Schofield and Lamonte Turner.
Schofield was in town for the game on the sidelines last night, getting a break from his hectic NBA life. Though his eligibility has expired, Barnes still found a way to call him into action.
“(Turner and Schofield) said we were right where you guys are when we were sophomores,” Barnes said. “The exact same place except we had Robert Hubbs, who had really been our security blanket that year. We haven’t had a security blanket since Lamonte went out. He was our defensive guy. He was the guy that in competitive situations, you knew you had a guy who was going to make something happen and who had been through it.”
Now in back to back games, Tennessee has completely fallen apart down the stretch. It happened on Saturday night against South Carolina and it nearly happened against a Vanderbilt team on Tuesday with one SEC win on the year.
Tennessee has let this season slip away, sitting at 15-11 on the year. They were unable to close against Texas A&M and let opportunities slip away against Kansas and Kentucky. This group hasn’t been dealt the greatest hand, but they haven’t exactly helped themselves either.
“We were there and we had to figure out how to break through,” Barnes said. “That is where this team is right now. How do you break through? You don’t break through by playing well when things are going well. You break through by playing every possession like every possession matters. Again, you don’t have to be perfect — you don’t. You cannot be sloppy and walk around like it is not that big a deal. You can’t turn the ball over the way we turned the ball over. You can’t do that.”
Tennessee has five regular season games left — five really tough games left. Two against Auburn, home against Florida, then at Arkansas and at Kentucky. If we see the effort we’ve seen over the last two games, the Volunteers might not win any of them. But it’s going to offer more chances to learn and develop, which is the most important thing at this point.