The seventh-ranked Tennessee Volunteers welcomed in the Alabama Crimson Tide into Thompson Boling Arena. The Crimson Tide came into Knoxville and presented the Volunteers with an absolute dogfight. Tennessee dealt with a scrappy Alabama team, foul trouble, and some highly questionable officiating early, but ultimately it was another shooting performance where Tennessee just couldn’t hit a shot that doomed them. The Tide upset the Vols and hand them their first loss of the season 71-63 behind good defense, an aggressive, driving set of guards, and a white hot three-point barrage to start the second half. Despite holding the Tide scoreless for almost 5 minutes, Tennessee couldn’t make up any ground because they simply could not score the basketball.
Tennessee found themselves trailing at the half for the first time this season, down 31-29. Poor shooting by the Vols gave Alabama a chance, and the Crimson Tide made the most of it. The Tide are often compared to the Houston Rockets for their willingness to shoot the three, but against Tennessee they had early success driving the lane and making inside shots against the Vols. Tennessee’s defense wasn’t bad, but the Tide managed to make tough shots. They also did serious work on the offensive glass, hustling to get rebounds and keep possessions alive. Alabama also brought an active, long, athletic team that plays very good team defense themselves. While the Vols missed good looks, the Alabama defense also made Tennessee work for shots, and they challenged the Vols when they did shoot. The Vols felt they were not getting some foul calls on physical plays in the first half on both ends of the floor, so much so that the referees hit Rick Barnes with a technical for arguing the lack of calls. A technical on Barnes has been a rare sight in his time with the Vols, and this one led to Alabama taking the lead before the half. The Vols shot just 32% from the floor in the first half, with some timely threes from Santiago Vescovi and his 8 points keeping the Vols in it offensively. Talented five-star freshman Jaden Springer also left the game after landing awkwardly on a shot in the first half. After being taken to the locker room, he did not return.
The Vols looked out of sorts early in the second half after Yves Pons was tagged with his third foul fifteen seconds into the second half on what looked like a clean block. It was at that point that an old problem reared its head for Tennessee as Alabama got hot from three. Alabama came out and went 5-5 from behind the three-point line to start the second half. This shelling came as the Vols continued to struggle to hit shots, allowing the Tide to pull away into a double digit lead. The Vols worked to fight back into the game, but each time Tennessee seemed ready to close the gap, the Crimson Tide answered with another three or a breakaway dunk. Even with Yves Pons making some spectacular chase down blocks, the Volunteer defense never looked the same in the second half. In fact, the Tennessee defense never looked like themselves at any point in the second half. The Vols were trying to chase Alabama shooters rather than defend them. The Vols lost the momentum after the Barnes technical, and never seemed to regain it. One of the 5 blocks from Pons denied Alabama an easy two, and the Vols looked to perhaps have some life after Victor Bailey hit three free throws, however the Vols just could not put their defense together. The story of the game for Tennessee was a bad shooting night, no answer for the Alabama deep ball, and an uncharacteristically rough night from the free throw line going just 17-26.
The Vols were bad on offense all night. Some of that was due to good Alabama defense, but some was also due to the Vols just not being able to get a shot to fall all night long. The more surprising part was the Vols getting worked on the defensive end. Alabama beat Tennessee guards off the dribble all night long, drove the lane well, and blistered the Vols from three in the second half. The Vols struggled all night to find any kind of offense, and after a 32% shooting night and going 4-20 from three, Tennessee needs to focus on working back into the post on offense. They also need to find their offensive leader, as they lacked any type of dominant offensive presence in this game. The Vols will have to look to answer some serious questions after their first loss of the year, as Arkansas comes calling on Wednesday, January 6. Tipoff for that game will be set for 7:00 eastern time.