Tennessee took a trip north to New York City tonight and played in one of the most frustrating games of basketball you’ll ever see. Texas Tech came out on top tonight in a true rock fight, taking the Volunteers to overtime and finally putting them away.
Sometimes you get a slobberknocker — a real defensive struggle. This was that, and then it turned into something else. We’ve all seen the football game that ends up 13-10, that’s the equivalent of how this one went. Texas Tech has made a living on playing defense over the past several seasons, and that tradition appears to be alive and well in the Mark Adams era.
The length of the Red Raiders was very evident early on. Tennessee struggled to even get the ball inside of the arc in the first half, outside of a few Kennedy Chandler drives. John Fulkerson connected on a couple of tough finishes to give Tennessee the early lead at 15-12 with eight minutes to play in the half.
However, an instant 8-0 run from Tech was the biggest moment of the half by far. The Red Raiders turned missed shots into transition opportunities, and connected on them to take control of the scoreboard. It was balanced scoring from Tech, happening most of the time in transition as the Tennessee half-court defense was also dialed in early on.
Tennessee’s main issue in the first half? A 2-13 mark from three-point range. The Volunteers struggled to get anything inside consistently, and hitting just two outside shots wasn’t helping matters.
(Spoiler alert: it didn’t get better.)
Frankly, the first half felt more lopsided than the scoreboard reflected, but thanks to a couple tough buckets from Zakai Zeigler, the Texas Tech lead was just 29-25.
It was more of the same in the opening minutes of the second half. Tennessee looked totally uncomfortable offensively, finding no answers for Texas Tech’s defensive pressure. The Red Raiders were able to splash home another three, as Kevin Obanor connected from the corner.
A quick 5-0 run had the Volunteers in trouble, but four quick points from Chandler gave the Vols some much needed life. Tennessee missed a couple of chances to cut further into the lead, missing several free throws throughout the night. Still, thanks to outstanding defense at the rim, Tennessee was down just 34-30 at the first media timeout of the second half.
That advantage held over the next several minutes, despite plenty of opportunities for Tennessee to take the lead. Josiah-Jordan James, Santiago Vescovi and Kennedy Chandler each missed open three-pointers, bringing them to 2-23 on the night. If the Vols hit any shots at all, they could have run away at any point with this game. The defensive effort was there from both sides, but Tennessee missed a ridiculous amount of open shots.
The slugfest continued, with Tennessee trailing 39-35 at the under eight break.
Two made free throws from Josiah-Jordan James were the only points scored by either side over the next four minutes. Fulkerson added the next point on a free throw with four minutes to play, cutting the Texas Tech lead down to 39-38.
Just when you thought Tennessee was about to take the lead on a breakaway dunk, this happened. Just the absolute cherry on top of this game.
Tennessee and Texas Tech, summed up in one sequence pic.twitter.com/vlVNZbsp2E— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) December 8, 2021
Finally Santiago Vescovi hit a three, pulling us to an even 41 points. However, a questionable call on rebound scramble on Vescovi put Tech on the free throw stripe, and Kevin McCullar hit both.
That call really seemed to tip the scales of this game, giving the Red Raiders a two point advantage with under two minutes to play. Tennessee missed two more open looks from three, and were forced to foul with under 40 seconds to play.
However, James — against all odds — would make up for his earlier error, drilling a three to tie the game at 44.
Both sides missed their chance to win, and we all got the overtime session that nobody wanted.
Terrence Shannon Jr. hit a floater as the shot clock expired to open the overtime scoring, while Tennessee continued to struggle on the offensive end. Davion Warren added another, and Shannon drilled another jumper. Fulkerson was able to clean up a miss to answer, but in a game like this, the damage had been done.
Tech went on to finish it off, winning 57-52.
Tennessee finished a whopping 6-39 from three point range. Maybe even more frustrating was the 8-16 mark from the free throw stripe, especially considering how valuable just one more of them could have been at the end of regulation.
The Tennessee defense was plenty good enough to win tonight, but the shots didn’t fall. It’s really as simple as that, as frustrating as it was to watch. Those nights happen in this sport — the Volunteers just have to flush this and move on.