Did Emotion Play a Part in Tennessee's Loss to Texas A&M?

Cory Sanning

Since news of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year old daughter Gianna's tragic deaths alongside seven others in a helicopter crash broke Sunday, the sports world has been in a state of mourning. 

Many individuals, including Bryant's close friends and former teammates, have expressed their shock and disbelief. Tennessee, while not directly connected with Bryant, is among that group. 

Rick Barnes recalled the first time he ever saw the former Lower Merion High School at an Adidas event in New Jersey back in 1996, calling Bryant the "greatest high school player" he'd ever watched since he began coaching. 

"Frank came back and asked if I had watched that game," Barnes said Monday. "I told him 'No, I'm watching this kid. If you get me that kid we'll win the National Championship.'"

As the Vols prepared to host Texas A&M on Tuesday in their first matchup since the news broke, they donned purple shoelaces in Bryant's memory. Jalen Johnson drew an illustration of the fallen star and it was displayed over the arena's jumbotron. 

Many UT players had "R.I.P. Kobe" and "R.I.P. GiGi" written on their sneakers along with personalized messages. Clearly, an emotional uplift subsided by the time the second half began. 

Tennessee thoroughly outshot the Aggies during both periods, topping Texas A&M's shooting percentage by more than 16 percentage points. Typically, that makes for a winning recipe on most nights.

Not this one.

While the Vols were able to make shots, their effort on the backboards left plenty to be desired. 

Not only did Tennessee get out-rebounded, it got incinerated on the glass. The Aggies more than doubled UT's total, 46-21. Texas A&M corralled more offensive rebounds (23) than the Vols did on both ends. 

Did the emotional letdown of Bryant's death play a factor?

Senior guard Jordan Bowden said that Tennessee got "out-toughed" and placed a large share of the blame on his shoulders. Barnes said there was no excuse for UT to get out-rebounded in the fashion in which they did. 

"We had a good role (going) and I came in and had the turnovers," Bowden said. "I can't do that as a leader on the team and as a senior."

Bowden has infamously played basketball in Bryant's signature shoes since his days at Carter High School in Strawberry Plains, Tennessee. Since he arrived at Tennessee, that aspect has not changed. 

It was Bryant's passion for the game and his off-the-court endeavors that stood out most to Bowden as he somberly reflected on his memory following the game. 

"His passion for the game and the stuff he did on and off the court," Bowden said. "To see him go like that, it sucks."

Whether or not that played a role in Tennessee's latest defeat remains unknown, but judging by the mood following the game, it would be safe to assume that emotion played some sort of factor.

Even if it was a minuscule one. 

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