Tennessee fought back from a 15-point first-half deficit to beat Alabama 69-68 in Tuscaloosa Tuesday night. Here are three things.
SNATCHING VICTORY FROM THE JAWS OF DEFEAT
I inherited my allegiance to Tennessee from my dad. That’s not unique or uncommon — lots of folks’ favorite sports teams have been passed down to them from past generations. I would venture to say that my preference for orange is more tied to the emotional attachment I have to the team through my dad than any special affinity for a coach or player or on-the-field victory.
But, with that, I also inherited his low tolerance for watching Tennessee lose. Maybe I’m a poor sport, or maybe I’m a bad fan, but I’m more apt to turn the game off out of frustration than I am to suffer through it. I’ve missed my share of exciting comebacks with this silly impatience. This is all just a wordy way of saying that I almost missed the win against Alabama because Tennessee had sprinted past my arbitrary threshold for ineptitude and seemed content falling in line for a would-have-been, fourth-straight loss. BUT I DIDN’T. I PERSEVERED. I ENDURED.
The Tide shot 52 percent from the field and hit seven of 16 attempts from 3-point range in the first half, while Tennessee played listless and uninspired basketball for probably 17 to 18 of the first 20 minutes. The Vols hit on about 33 percent of their shots and just two of their 10 attempts from deep.
Alabama led 39-24 with 1:49 left in the first half before Tennessee went on an 8-1 run and trimmed the Tide’s lead to single digits. After the game, coach Rick Barnes said getting the deficit to something more manageable was the first priority and that he wanted to attack Alabama from the inside out in the second half.
“Our goal was to just get it [the Bama lead] under double-digits,” Barnes said. “Then we came out and got a good start to the second half. We said we are going inside and the biggest adjustment I made at halftime was I told them those guys better touch it. They better touch that ball and they better understand that we can always get the ball inside.”
Tennessee trailed by as many as 15 points before rallying to defeat Alabama at Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday night, 69-68.— Tennessee Stats & Info (@Vol_Stats) February 5, 2020
It marks the largest deficit overcome to win on the road by a @Vol_Hoops team since a March 4, 2006 win at Vanderbilt. pic.twitter.com/ilKQZarBeD
John Fulkerson scored 12 of his new career-high 22 points in the second half, and 20 of the 22 came after the 3:40 mark of the first half.
Bama’s shooting also cooled in the second half — the Tide went 11-28 overall and 4-11 from deep — and that didn’t hurt Tennessee’s comeback effort, but the box score looks maybe just weirdly atypical and also maybe like a transposition from a parallel universe.
Jordan Bowden scored 16 of his 20 points (!!!!) in the second half while Tennessee had more rebounds (offensive and total), more free throw makes and attempts, more second-chance points and fewer turnovers than Alabama. This was the first time that Tennessee had more FT attempts than its opponent since the Ole Miss game, and it’s just the second time the Vols attempted more FTs than their opponent in conference play.
MR. CAREER HIGH, JOHN FULKERSON
It was a night of quiet redemption for John Fulkerson. En route to his new high-water scoring mark, he shot 8-9 from the field, hit 6-8 from the free-throw line, added three blocks, one steal and committed just two turnovers and one foul.
Barnes was publicly critical of the team, and specifically Fulkerson, after the loss to Mississippi State when Tennessee gave up those 58 second-half points. The redshirt junior had his worst shooting night of the season, 2-9, and finished the game with six points and four fouls.
That was probably the low point of the season for the Vols, the midnight dark that allegedly comes before the dawn. It was the second-straight loss against a comparable team, and it was the second-straight game in which the Tennessee post players looked overmatched and got outworked.
After the game, Fulkerson said he wasn’t entirely sure what caused the disparity in his performances.
“I wish I knew exactly what it was because I wouldn’t do what I did at Mississippi State,” Fulkerson said, “and I would do what I did tonight. Maybe just not locked in.”
John Fulkerson 1st team All-SEC. that is the tweet. that is all.— Grant Williams (@Grant2Will) February 5, 2020
Whatever the case, the game against the Bulldogs seems to be closer to the exception than the rule — it was just the seventh time in 22 chances that he’s failed to score in double figures, and his 65 percent shooting would rank second in the SEC if he made enough buckets per game to qualify (minimum five FG made per game to qualify, Fulk averages 4.8). I don’t know if he’s played well enough for All-SEC consideration, but there’s a viable argument that he’s conference’s most improved player and Tennessee’s MVP.
HOW ARE OUR JORDANS
I’ve mentioned this before, but this season has been so weird. The roster seems to change with the weather; it’s been a mix of injuries and subtractions with appeals, and outta-left-field, mid-year enrollee additions. This team masked as a top-25 group early in the season but has looked like an SEC bottom feeder sometimes, too.
With the loss of four guys to the NBA, this sort of inconsistency really shouldn’t be a shock, but both of the players expected to step up have instead stepped out, and that’s been, at least, a bit surprising.
Lamonte Turner’s Tennessee career ended unceremoniously due to injury, and Jordan Bowden has spent a good chunk of the season in the slumpiest of slumps.
We’ve watched Bowden here for the better part of four years now, and we knew that the hot/cold, on-again, off-again inconsistency dance is a jig he’s memorized the steps to. So, even though the mantle was passed and the fans’ expectations for him changed, increased, some streakiness had been worked into our presumption budget and filed in the “possible but not earth shattering,” folder. Unfortunately, he’s been bad too often to blame inconsistency.
Yes, Bowden’s hit the double-digit scoring mark in seven straight games, but that noise has been muffled by his 18-percent shooting from long range. During those seven games, he’s hit zero 3s three times and more than one just once. Since the shots aren’t falling from distance, he’s attacking the basket and thereby getting to the FT line more often. He’s sitting at 4.6 makes in 6.0 tries during this stretch, both marked increases from the 2.0 makes in 2.4 tries he was averaging prior to the last seven contests.
Josiah-Jordan James missed his second game in a row Tuesday night, and Barnes didn’t say much to enlighten us on the freshman guard’s status going forward. But there definitely wasn’t much positive to glean from coach’s comments.
“We didn’t practice much the past couple days,” Barnes said after the game. “If he wasn’t hurt, he could have done what we did. We didn’t even go live on Sunday. We didn’t go live on Monday. He wasn’t able to do any of it.”
James missed a significant portion of practice before the season with a hip injury, and it’s been reported that he re-aggravated it against Kansas. His play suffered — zero points, 0-6 from the field, six TOs against the Jayhawks and seven points with four TOs and five fouls against A&M.
Vescovi seems to be handling the point guard duties well enough, but he’s playing a ton of minutes. Also, I don’t think the timing of James’s injury and the Vols’ rebounding struggles is coincidence — on average, he was Tennessee’s second-best rebounder behind Fulkerson.