The No. 7 Tennessee Volunteers (7-1) entered Saturday’s matchup against the Alabama Crimson Tide (7-3) in a good spot. The Vols were coming off a big road win against the No. 12 Missouri Tigers and were hosting the Tide at home.
But, as usual, Alabama ruined the party. A poor offensive night from the Vols eventually doomed the Big Orange en route to the first loss of the 2020 season.
A Tennessee turnover led to a Jaden Shackleford bucket and Alabama drew first blood with 18:56 to go in the first half. It almost took three minutes, but Santiago Vescovi drilled a 3-pointer to give Tennessee a 3-2 lead. Jaden Springer followed up with a bucket of his own on the next possession and the Vols looked like they were starting to find a rhythm on offense after a slow start.
John Petty Jr. —a name the Vols know all too well— drilled a 3 of his own on Bama’s next possession to tie it up, 5-5. Both teams weren’t shooting very well in the first 4:00 of the game, evidenced by the combined 4-of-10 mark from the field.
Yves Pons broke the tie from the charity stripe, but he only hit one of two shots, so Tennessee led, 6-5. Tennessee’s lead didn’t last long, however, as Shackleford converted an and-1 opportunity to put the Crimson Tide back up, 8-6. John Fulkerson came through with his first shot of the game to tie the game at eight points apiece, but a Herbert Jones layup put the Tide back up, 10-8, with 14:01 left in the first half.
The Vols mounted a 4-0 run to take a 12-10 lead. Jordan Bruner tied the game back up with a layup and the bad shooting continued for Tennessee. The Vols simply couldn’t finish. The good news was the Tide couldn’t, either. Victor Bailey Jr. and Joshua Primo kept the game tied at 14 with 9:00 to go in the first half. At this point, 10 different players had a bucket of some sort.
Another quick 4-0 run from the Vols put them in the lead by four points, but Bama was able to keep it close. Both offenses started to heat up over the next 5:00 of the game. Both teams scored a combined 21 points compared to 28 combined points in the first 10:00.
Tennessee was able to hold its lead for a good while, but Petty hit a layup to give Alabama a 27-26 lead. A Fulkerson free throw and another Bailey layup put Tennessee in the lead by two points, but Bama went on its own 4-0 run to take a 31-29 lead into halftime.
Both teams were sub-40% from the floor and neither team was higher than 25% from downtown. Tennessee was not helping itself at the free throw line, either. The Vols were just 5-of-9 (55.5%) compared to the Tide’s perfect 5-of-5.
Turnovers were an issue for both teams, as well. Alabama had 10 and Tennessee had seven. Good defense was a large part of the turnovers, but sloppy offense also had a role.
The Vols’ charity stripe woes continued right out of the gate in the second half. Fulkerson missed his first attempt and then proceeded to miss two straight soon after. The Vols were now 6-of-13 from the charity stripe on the night.
Petty hit another shot from downtown to make it a 39-32 game and then Primo hit another to make it a 42-32 game with 17:15 left in the game. Tennessee’s stagnant offense really needed to find some life.
It didn’t really matter what Tennessee’s offense did, though, and that’s because Alabama was rolling on offense. Primo and Petty hit another 3 apiece to push the Tide’s lead to 48-36. Alabama’s last five shots were now 3-pointers and it was on a 17-6 run.
Alabama’s lead grew as big as 14, but the Vols kept fighting. An eventual Pons block keyed a Vescovi bucket that cut the deficit to nine, but Keon Ellis drilled a 3 to put Bama back up, 57-45.
The big news at this point was Jaden Springer, who had to exit the game with an ankle injury. It happened at some point in the first half and he was ruled out at halftime. We will be sure to keep an eye on that and provide updates when the time comes.
Pons continued to dominate down low, which continued to help the Vols mount their comeback. A Bailey 3 had the Vols down, 57-50, with 9:20 left to go in the game.
But Tennessee couldn’t ever really overcome the deficit. Alabama kept its lead between 7-9 points over the next 7:00 of the game. Pons was playing incredible offense, blocking shots left and right. But the Vols’ offense was just bad on the other end of the court. Overall, the Vols were at 32% from the floor with 2:30 in the game.
Tennessee had a chance to come back in the final minute, but an ill-fated turnover ended any shot at redemption for the Vols. They would go on to lose, 71-63.
The Vols are now set to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks in Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday, January 6. Tipoff is currently set for 7PM EST.