If you want a peak at what could be in store for the rest of this team’s season, just look at the final six minutes of today’s 79-70 loss to Auburn. The offense failed to make a shot for the last six minutes and 13 seconds of the game, and the defense allowed the Tigers to make four of their five final shots.
Obviously, Auburn had more to play for today, with a potential NCAA Tournament bid on the line, and we saw the Vols breeze past a talented Arkansas team when Ziegler went down with the torn ACL. So I’m not talking about a 1:1 comparison here. But without Ziegler, the Vols lack an offensive initiator who can get to the rim, and that’s a problem.
The point-guard-by-committee approach ended with Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James and Jahmai Mashack combining for seven of the Vols’ 11 total turnovers. Ziegler’s presence was missed defensively, too, as the Vols turned the Tigers over just six times and scored four points off those free possessions.
The two teams exchanged a few layups deep, then around the 18-minute mark, a drive to the hoop by Josiah-Jordan James turned into a skip pass to Santiago Vescovi who drilled his first 3 of the game from waaay downtown.
Aidoo picked up his first foul early, and a turnover from Jahmai Mashack, who started in place of Tennessee’s now gone-for-the-season point guard Zakai Ziegler, ended up in a run-out dunk layup for the Tigers.
After Vescovi’s 3, Olivier took a fadeaway jumper in the paint that he missed, Mashack turned it over again on a travel and the Tigers answered with a 3 on their next trip down the floor. By the 16-minute mark, Auburn led 9-5.
Santi’s 3 dropped at the 18:04 mark, and the Vols didn’t score again until Aidoo hit a little jumper in the paint at the 15:29 mark.
Tyreke Key, who’s been dealing with an ankle injury, checked in with just fewer than 16 minutes remaining, hit his first 3 to give the Vols a 11-10.
Santi hit an and-1 layup, but missed the free throw, though he hit a second-chance 3 on the Vols’ next possession. Freshman Julian Phillips scored his first points of the game around the 12-minute mark on a driving layup. He’s got to be more aggressive going to the hoop. He’s 6-7, long and athletic. Get to the bucket and see what happens.
That capped off a 7-0 run for Tennessee, and gave it a 17-13 lead. But Auburn’s Allen Flanigan answered with a jumper at the 11:13 mark to take the broadcast to the under-12 break, with UT still holding onto a 17-15 lead.
Off an Auburn turnover, James got the ball in the post with his back to the basket and found Nkamhoua with a pass over his right shoulder that led to an easy two points.
Auburn’ Johni Broome gave the Tigers the 20-19 lead back with a corner 3 — the broadcast noted that he’s shot 27-percent from distance in conference play, but Aidoo didn’t close out hard enough and Broome nailed the relatively open look to take the game into the under-eight media timeout.
Nkamhoua hit a jumper in the paint after the timeout, and Auburn flubbed an easy layup on its subsequent possession. Mashack went hard to the bucket and made the layup, putting the Vols up 23-20. Auburn’s Wendell Green scored his first points of the game with an and-1 layup.
James nailed a 3 at the 5:14 mark, then the defense forced an empty Tiger possession and Nkamhoua ended up with two free-throw attempts, of which he made just one. With 4:08 left, Wendell Green hit his first 3 of the game to cut the Vols’ lead to 27-26 as the game went into the under-four media break. If Green gets hot, Tennessee could be in for a long second half. He’s the team’s leading scorer, but he’s shooting a career-worst 28-percent from deep this year.
Out of the time out, Broome tied the game by making 1-2 at the line, and on the Vols’ next possession, Mashack got tied up for the Vols’ 5th turnover of the half. The arrow kept the ball in Tennessee’s possession, and Uros collected an offensive rebound and found Santi at the top of the key. Santi hit his third 3 of the half on his patented pump-fake, side-step jumper.
Tennessee was on its way to ending the half on a 7-0 run, in which the defense had held Auburn’s offense scoreless for three-ish minutes, but Green nailed a far-side corner 3 as the game clock hit double zeroes. The Vols had the play covered relatively well — Santi was there to contest, but the 3 dropped regardless.
To start the second half, Auburn made two layups to tie the game before James scored the Vols’ first points of the second half. Auburn nailed a 3 on the next possession to take back the lead, 37-36, with 18;10 left.
Early in the second half, we got a good look at what the Vols’ offense can and will look like at times with Ziegler. No penetration, lots of dribbling, empty possession.
Broome and James traded 3s, then the defense let Broome get straight to hoop for a dunk.
Tennessee missed a shot and Aidoo nearly corralled the rebound, but instead, he lost it and the ball went out of bounds for the Vols’ second turnover in the first four minutes of the second half.
At the 15:50 mark, Key finished a leaner in the lane, through contact, with no foul call, to cut Auburn’s lead to 43-41.
A Vescovi-to-Nkamhoua alley-oop tied the game, but Auburn got a run-out layup off another Tennessee turnover. A foul on James on the made layup took the broadcast to a media timeout, and Flannigan missed the free throw after the break to make it 45-43 Tigers.
Tobe Awaka was a force on the glass in the second half — he snagged a defensive rebound one end then, out of the high post, hit a cutting Phillips for a nasty dunk on the offensive end. At this point in the game, Awaka had eight rebounds, two offensive, in just 13 minutes of floor time. Six of those rebounds came in six minutes of action in the game’s final minutes. If he ever develops a post game on offense — watch out.
Right before the under-12 timeout, Broome fouled Uros Plavsic, who we all know is a notoriously poor free throw shooter who’s airballed multiple attempts from the charity stripe in his career. He missed both, and Tennessee was called for a foul on the rebound attempt. Those were the Vols’ 8th and 9th free-throw attempts of the game halfway through the second half.
Auburn extended its lead to 51-47 on a KD Johnson 3, then took a missed Phillips shot down the floor for a wild, run-out layup to make it 53-46 Tigers with half of the second half left.
Santi cut the lead back down to 3 with his fourth 3 of the game, but then turned the ball over after an empty Auburn possession. That led to a Tiger shot attempt that drew a foul, and Wendell Green nailed both attempts.
Key hit a floater to cut it to 56-52, Tigers, at the 9:26 mark, but the defense immediately surrendered a second-chance two-point jump shot to Wendell Green.
Phillips hit two FTs with 8:18 left, then induced an empty possession from the Tiger’s offense on the other end. At the under-eight timeout, Vols trailed 56-58 but will have possession coming out of the break.
Santi hit his fifth 3 of the game after the timeout to cut the lead to one and subsequently gave up a layup on defense. Jonas Aidoo gave Tennessee the lead back on a little hook shot in the paint at the 6:47 mark, then Santi hit another jumper a possession later. 63-62 Vols.
With 4:25 left, Tiger Jaylin Williams hit a tough leaner in the lane, and the Tigers went into the under-four break up 64-63 after Tyreke Key missed a jumper.
Williams hit the two FTs after the break, and Auburn’s up 66-63. On UT’s next possession, Vescovi turned it over on a travel. It marked the Vols’ 10th turnover of the game, and Flannigan hit an and-1 opportunity on the other end leaving the Vols down six with just fewer than three minutes left,
Awaka made one of two at the line with about 2:40 left, but Auburn turned it over on its next offensive trip. But, of course, Tennessee turned it over again, and then surrendered another and-1 layup at the hoop on defense.
With 1:37 left, Vols trail 72-64. At this point, Auburns on a 12-1 run spanning nearly five minutes, with UT not having scored in more than two minutes.
After taking a four-point lead into halftime, the Vols gave up 49 points in the second half and got outscored by 13 in the game’s final period. Tough loss.
- Santi led the team with 21 points on maybe the most efficient game of this year: 8-13 from the field and 5-9 from 3. He missed his only free-throw attempt, on the front end of a one-and-one opportunity.
- Every Vol who played scored, but Tennessee got very little production out of its post players. Aidoo: four points on 2-5 shooting with three rebounds, two assists, two fouls, a steal and a turnover. Nkamhoua: seven points on 3-5 shooting with one rebound, one assist, one foul. Uros Plavsic: two points on 1-2 shooting and 0-2 from the FT line, three rebounds, one assist, two fouls, one turnover and one block. While he didn’t add much offensively, young Tobe Awaka was the lone bright spot in the Tennessee post. He scored just one point as he missed another on a two-shot foul, but he snared 10 rebounds (three offesnsive), two assists, two fouls and a block. Eight of his 10 rebounds came in just 11 minutes in the second half.
- Freshman wing Julian Phillips had just his second double-digit scoring game since UT played UGA on January 21st. He finished with 10 points and flashed the knack for when to cut to the hoop and the athleticism to finish violently when he got there. He went just 2-5 from the field, but he hit all six of his free throw opportunities. He absolutely has to get it going for the Vols to stand any chance at all of winning more than one game come March
- Today, Auburn’s defense did to us what we have done to teams all season — turning defense into offense. The Tigers turned Tennessee over 11 times and scored 21 points off those free possessions. While Mashack is athletically gifted enough to guard positions 1-4, he’s not as fast or as quick as Zielger, and he doesn’t have the natural anticipation that Ziegler has that he uses to create so many of his steals
- Overall, Tennessee shot 47 percent from the field. One would expect a team to win a game shooting that sort of percentage from the field. But Auburn shot 49 percent. Sometimes them’s the breaks.. I guess