Tennessee lost a heartbreaker to Auburn Saturday, 73-66. Here are three things.
This one hurt.
When a team blows a double-digit lead in the second half, there are usually at least a couple places you can point and assign blame. That’s no different here, but Tennessee’s inability to take care of the ball was the game’s most glaring malady.
The Vols set a season high with 24 turnovers Saturday, and Josiah James (six), Santiago (five) Vescovi and John Fulkerson (four) combined for 15 of them.
Taking care of the ball has been an issue for this team as the point guard position has been pretty fluid for most of the season. In fact, this was the third game so far this season with 20-plus turnovers for the Vols, and for some context, prior to this year, the last game with 20 or more turnovers was a 13-point loss to Florida in Gainesville on January 7th, 2017. Tennessee won 60 games in the last two seasons and had exactly zero games with 20 or more turnovers. Hmm.
Saturday, Auburn’s defensive pressure was a happy catalyst for Tennessee’s carelessness. The Tigers’ full-court press routinely stymied any Tennessee attempt to advance the ball or push the tempo, and it caused at least one 10-second violation and one five-second call on an in-bounds play. The pressure was relentless and suffocating, but maybe most importantly, it jump started an offense that struggled and shot just 34 percent in the first half. The Tigers rode that pressure to 50 percent shooting in the second half and 27 total points off Tennessee’s charity.
The Vols now have 70 turnovers in their last four games, and a good portion of fans are turning over their attention to next season. Tsk Tsk.
Honestly, it’s a bit silly to criticize Vescovi’s play, given that his arrival was totally unexpected and he’s mostly flourished despite every aspect of his life being 100-percent new and different.
But that’s just kinda what we do. We analyze and criticize. We bitch and moan. We mean well, though.
His numbers have been up and down more than a teeter-totter, and though he’s made tremendous strides through his first 15 games, his outing against Auburn was a reminder of how much room he’s got to improve.
Tennessee needs him in the game and handling the ball, not totally by default but pretty much totally by default, though just staying on the court was a challenge against the Tigers. He logged a season-low 18 minutes because of foul trouble (a few of the fouls were silly, silly plays) and looked out of sorts nearly the whole time. He missed open 3s, repeatedly jumped in the air without having a good look at the rim for a shot or an open teammate for a pass and finished with nine combined fouls/ turnovers and 10 points. He’s now got 21 turnovers in his last five games after having just eight turnovers in the five games prior.
Vescovi hoops with a wonderful kinetic flair and panache, but it’s not without caveat. Toe the line enough and that grace becomes haste embedded in reckless abandon.
MOMMA THERE GOES THAT MAN
It was pretty disappointing to waste Jordan Bowden’s best game yet on a loss. His outing against the Tigers was an absolute gem that featured all the facets of his game. He hit 3s and he dunked the ball and he got into the lane and he drew some fouls.
All in all, it was a career-high 28 points on 9-12 shooting with three triples and six assists. Bowden’s points and assists accounted for nearly 64 percent of Tennessee’s total offense.
Seeing those 3s drop and throwing down that monstrous dunk had to do wonders for the senior’s confidence that’s been tested by a seemingly season-long 3-point shooting slump. He’s hovering around the 26-percent mark from deep — that figure is down nearly 10 percentage points from last year.
If he’s found his way out of those poor-shooting woods, that’s great. It’s too late to have a major impact on the season’s outcome, but it would be pretty cool to see him leave Tennessee on not his worst shooting season ever.