On Sunday, Rick Barnes and Tennessee had to of known they were in for a brawl.
Colorado was coming off an 11-point loss to a Grambling State team that went 12-20 last year. Regardless — I’m not sure the Vols showed up ready for what was coming, despite having the advantage of playing a neutral site game in Nashville.
Tennessee shot 23 percent from the field in the first half and scored just two points in the paint and built a two-point halftime mostly off their free throws. The Vols hit 17 of their 21 free-throw attempts, while Colorado attempted just eight and made five of them.
No Volunteer hit more than one shot from the field during the first 20 minutes of the game, as Colorado sent double teams into the post the moment any Tennessee player got the ball near the rim. Uros Plavsic left the game early when he rolled his ankle, and Olivier Nkamhoua scored just two points on 0-4 shooting as the double teams clearly effected his vision.
Colorado came out hot in the second half, hitting eight of their first 15 shots and taking a five-point lead with about nine minutes left in the game. On the other end, at the same juncture, the Vols had taken 19 shots and made just four of them — with nine of those attempts coming from outside and just one going through the net.
Around the eight-minute mark, Zakai Zeigler hit a tough jumper in the lane that cut Colorado’s lead to 57-50, but Buffs had outscored the Vols 25-16 at this point through the second half, and the deficit coulda been seven or 27 — I don’t think it would have mattered. CU led the rebounding battle pretty handedly — 38-31 at this point — and managed to hold that lead through the duration of the game. Colorado manages all this despite turning the ball over 18 times through 3⁄4 of the game.
The Buffs stretched its lead out to 14 with 15-5 run that included a four-minute scoring drought from the Vols. Those offensive cold stretches just make it really, really hard to win basketball games.
The teams exchanged 3s a few times after the four-minute mark, and the Vols even got a few late treys to drop following Colorado turnovers, but it wasn’t enough as Tennessee’s defense continued to allow layups on the other end.
All in all, Tennessee took a two-point halftime lead and then went and allowed Colorado to shoot 54 percent from the field score nearly 50 points in the final 20 minutes.
Tennessee’s starting backcourt — Santiago Vescovi and Zeigler — combined for 23 points 6-15 shooting. Neither guy found their stroke from distance, as Vescovi hit just two of his 11 attempts and Zeigler went 2-6.
Josiah-Jordan James and Tyreke Key were the lone bright-ish spots offensively, as James had an efficient 15 points that included a 4-8 day from deep. James added eight boards and was the only Vol to hit at least five shots from the field (he went 5-11).
Key’s day was far less efficient, as he hit just two of his nine shots with zero points inside the arc. His 9-11 day from the FT line bolstered his stat line.
The Vols got nothing from their front court, which could be a recurring issue until Julian Phillips really finds his footing. Nkahoua led the team with 10 boards but shot 1-8 from the field and turned it over four times. His hands continue to be a problem in tight spaces, and it was disappointing watching him struggle so mightily against the double teams. Phillips showed flashes, but he’s still got some adjusting to do to the college game. He finished with five points on 1-6 shooting and three fouls.
Tennessee’s spent most of the last couple seasons in the NCAA’s top-five in assist percentage, and the Vols rarely, if ever, lose when they hit the 20-assist mark in a game. Today they had 13, compared to 15 turnovers. Not ideal.
I mentioned this on Twitter, but early-season losses in college basketball aren’t much more than lessons and teaching moments. It’s a long season, and Tennessee still has lots of talent. Don’t jump ship.
The Vols play Florida Gulf Coast at home on Wednesday before traveling to the Bahamas in the 16th to play Butler in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament.