Mental Errors, Lack of Execution Haunt No. 19 Vols in Loss to No. 13 Memphis
The last time Tennessee and Memphis were on the same court, the game ended with Admiral Schofield prancing around the FedEx Forum popping his jersey to Tigers fans.
It would only be fitting that Memphis would get the opportunity to do the same in Knoxville, and the Tigers took advantage of it.
Josiah-Jordan James scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds and John Fulkerson added nine points and seven rebounds as the Vols (7-2) squandered a 10-point first half lead, falling to the Tigers 51-47 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tyler Harris and D.J. Jeffries led Memphis (9-1) with 11 points each while UT seniors Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner combined to go 3-of-21 from the field.
The loss marks Tennessee’s first home loss in 31 games, which stood as the longest streak in the nation up until this point.
It was the struggles of his two leading scorers, however, that stood out to Rick Barnes the most, and not in a positive manner, stating that Turner and Bowden have to ‘figure out’ their roles and continue to learn.
“They’ve moved into new roles and they’re going to have to figure it out too,” Barnes said. “When you’re in a possession game like this, that’s when you’ve got to be mature enough to know you have to make them all count.”
A defensive slugfest right from the opening tip, both teams opened up the game by missing their first handful of attempts from the field. It wasn’t until midway through the second minute that the lid would be removed from the basket.
It was an unfamiliar face that would be called upon to carry the offensive load for Tennessee.
After knocking down his first 3-pointer of the night, James was UT’s only consistent scorer throughout the opening 20 minutes. He scored 11 points during that span, knocking down 3-of-4 shots from long distance.
A fluent scorer in high school, James feels that his ability to make shots and take some of the pressure off of both Bowden and Turner, especially when they’re receiving extra attention constantly, can only benefit the Vols moving forward.
“I feel like if I can attack or score the ball, I can make the game easier for them,” James said. “They’re going to be game-planned for...other guys besides those two have to step up, be aggressive and attack just to give those guys open looks.”
His coach echoed that same sentiment as well.
While Barnes says that he will need to look at the film to get a better viewpoint of what Tennessee did and didn’t do well, he was satisfied with the performance of his freshman point guard.
“I thought he was good today in terms of trying to do everything that he could (in the game),” Barnes said. “I do like the way he carried himself today.”
The way James carried himself in the first half did not translate to further success for the Vols, however.
Tennessee would find itself in quite a struggle offensively for the remainder of the game, shooting just 30 percent during the second half as the Tigers took advantage of UT’s miscues.
The Vols scored just two fastbreak points and mustered up just 11 points on 17 Memphis turnovers. That was one area where Barnes’ disappointment was unmatched.
“I thought we didn’t take advantage of advantage basketball when we had it,” Barnes said. “That’s the one thing we didn’t do a very good job of.”
Despite the loss, James and the Vols are doing their best to put their next foot forward.
Bowden and Turner may have put forth their worst shooting performance of the season on paper, but James feels that this will be a minor hiccup for Tennessee as conference play approaches.
No matter the final score, James says that UT “feeds” off of the leadership and energy that its tandem of senior guards brings on a daily basis.
“Those guys are veterans, they haven’t played perfect in every game they’ve been in,” James said. “I know that they’re going to bounce back, just knowing the guys that they are, they’re going to come in the gym and work even harder.”
James also feels that it is the duty of the younger players to follow Bowden and Turner’s example.
For the Vols to finish off non-conference play on a positive note, it may be the encouraging words of their two leaders that carry them past what was an otherwise difficult, cringe-worthy loss.
“We’re going to feed off of that as younger guys...you have to make a loss a lesson,” James said. “We’ve got to be better as a group and we’re just feeding off of their positive energy.”