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Takeaways: No. 17 Tennessee Falls Flat in Loss to No. 5 Villanova

Kennedy Chandler missed a layup near the end of the first half in Connecticut on Saturday. Villanova’s Jermaine Samuels grabbed the rebound, and the ball found its way to a wide-open Justin Moore.

Moore streaked in for an uncontested slam, sending the Wildcats to the locker room with a 35-15 halftime lead. 11 of those Wildcat points came off 14 Tennessee turnovers, which notched a new career-high — or low, depending on the viewpoint.

The Vols never recovered, as Villanova stifled Tennessee in a 71-53 win in the first game of the 2021 CheHall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at Mohegan Sun.

Here are our takeaways from the loss:

Vols Can’t Solve Villanova Defense

After accruing two early fouls, Tennessee point guard Kennedy Chandler headed to the bench.

In previous games without him, the Vols have floundered. But even with Chandler — and despite a streaky nine first-half points from Santiago Vescovi — UT continued to suffer against Villanova’s defense.

In the first half, Tennessee gave up an aforementioned season-high in turnovers. Their shooting didn’t help, as UT’s struggle for open looks led to a 5-for-22 mark inside, with a 1-for-11 mark beyond the arc.

In the second half, the story remained the same despite 14 points from Vescovi.

They made just 14 of 35 shots from the floor with a 4-of-17 clip from 3-point range.

“We’re a better shooting team than we shot today,” Rick Barnes said. “We let missed shots affect us. We lost our aggression on defense.”

Vescovi Provides Spark Amidst Villanova Success

After Vescovi’s 23 points, Tennessee’s second-highest scorer was Zakai Zeigler. The Brooklyn native had seven.

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One moment from Vescovi represented his grit, as he notched a steal, went up for a layup, missed and got the put-back going into a timeout.

He was the only Vol in double-figures, as Chandler ranked third behind Zeigler with six points on the night.

Vescovi noted after the loss that there are plenty of positives to take from the loss, but he did not address much of his day personally.

Justin Powell had five points, John Fulkerson had four, and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, Jahmai Mashack and Josiah-Jordan James had two each.

Villanova, meanwhile, had three players — Collin Gillespie, Brandon Slater and Samuels — score 14 points apiece, while Moore notched 13.

Effort Despite Inexperience

Even in the loss, the Vols showed plenty of effort with sprints and dives for loose balls.

Barnes noted that he appreciated the effort, especially considering these Vols have plenty of players with inexperience in big games.

Onward and Upward

That effort should pay off in the long run. But on Saturday, it was Villanova’s experience and execution that put the Wildcats over the top — and left UT with plenty of lessons to take going forward.

“I love Jay (Wright’s) teams, I always have,” Barnes said. “I would love to play them early every year. I think they tell us a lot.”

“The biggest thing you take from this is the mindset you have to have to compete at the highest level.”

The Vols get the first crack at rebounding on Sunday, as they’ll face either No. 6 Purdue or No. 18 North Carolina around 3 p.m. ET on ESPN.