The Alabama Crimson Tide went into Knoxville to play the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday, tied for the lead in the SEC. The Vols have combined their typical hard nosed physical defense with a much better offense this year, making them a very hard team to deal with. The Volunteers dominated from the start and defeated the Tide 91-71. Alabama fell to 12-6 overall and 4-1 in the SEC while Tennessee improved to 14-4 and 4-1 in conference play.
The Tide used the same starting lineup of Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada, Rylan Griffen, Grant Nelson, and Nick Pringle. Sears injured his ankle in the win over Missouri on Tuesday and there were questions about his availability today. The senior from Muscle Shoals laced them up and gave it his best in the contest.
Bama looked out of sync from the start, more likely to turn the ball over than to get a shot off early in the game. The Volunteers have an elite defense and forced several turnovers throughout the game, but early on the Tide was giving the ball up with ease. Coach Nate Oats substituted early with Latrell Wrightsell, Jr., Mo Dioubate, and Sam Walters but try as he may, could not find a cohesive unit. With 14:20 left the score was 14-7 Vols, and Bama had five turnovers.
Walters hit Bama’s first three pointer of the game with 12:35 left to make the deficit 18-12, which was as close as the Tide would get for the rest of the game. The Tide was able to get to the free throw line 15 times in the half, which helped keep them within striking distance. Another Walters there and a two free throws from Sears cut the lead to 47-37 with 1:21 left in the half. Bama blew a chance to makes things closer with more turnovers. The Volunteers made a three pointer with just a few seconds left and stretched the lead to 50-37 at the break.
In the first half Alabama shot 12-22 for 55%- good, but 2-9 from three -bad, while making 11-15 from the charity stripe. The Tide had 14 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, three blocks, but most importantly, 13 turnovers. Griffen and Sears had seven points each while Pringle and Walters added six each. Nelson led with five rebounds and Estrada was the main facilitator with five assists.
The Vols shot 19-40 for 48%, 6-17 for 35% from deep, and made 6-7 free throws. The home team had 18 rebounds, 13 assists, nine steals, three blocks, and only four turnovers. Dalton Knecht scored 17 points, Jordan Gainey added 13, and Jonas Aidoo was also in double figures with 10 points.
The Tide sent the same five starters out for the second half. Things didn't change. At the first media timeout with 16 minutes left the score was 55-41 and Bama never could mount a charge. The culprits continued to be turnovers, missed rebounds for second chance UT points, and the inability to get any clean looks from three point range. Despite his ankle issue Sears remained in the game and scored several baskets down the stretch. A late Vol three pointer pushed Tennessee over the 90 point mark and gave the home team the 91-71 win.
In the second half Alabama shot 13-34 for 38%, 2-12 for 16% from three, and 6-9 at the free throw line. Overall the Tide shot 25-56 for 45%, 4-21 for 19% from behind the arc, and 17-24 for 71% on free throws. Bama had 37 rebounds, nine assists, four blocks, five steals, and a huge 22 turnovers. Sears managed to play 33 minutes and scored 22 points with two assists, one block, one rebound, and two steals. However seven turnovers, many of them unforced, were a black mark on his play. Estrada shot 4-8 and scored eight points, had three rebounds, and five assists. Pringle scored eight points and also had five rebounds. Griffen scored seven, had five rebounds, and almost matched Sears with six turnovers of his own. Jarin Stevenson also scored seven points in 14 minutes.Walters played well in his 18 minutes with six points and five rebounds.
Tennessee hit 13-26 second half shots including 4-11 from deep and made 11-18 free throws. Overall all the Vols shot 32-66 for 49%, 10-28 for 36% from three and 17-25 for 68% on free throws. UT finished with 34 rebounds, 21 assists, six blocks, 15 steals, and only seven turnovers. Knecht scored 25 points, but only shot 8-20 from the field. Aidoo scored 19 points, had four rebounds, and four blocks. Gainey finished with 15 points and Santiao Vescovi made it a quartet in double figures with 10 points.
It is hard to find any silver linings in todays game. If there are any, Pringle played well for the second game in a row, Walters was more under control, and Stevenson did a couple of nice things. The Tide just hasn’t played well against physical teams, or top tier teams either for that matter. At least in losses to Purdue, Creighton, and Arizona, Bama played close and held leads late. Today that did not happen. Knoxville is a tough place to play and the Vols are a tough, well coached team. Coach Rick Barnes’ squad did a great job of never giving the Tide a clean look from three point range, and banged the visitors around enough to frustrate them. Going forward the turnover situation has to get better.
Up next, a visit by the red hot Auburn Tigers, as of now the last undefeated team in SEC play. The game is on Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. CT and will be shown on ESPN. The Tide can't afford to lose at home, so this will be an important game. Hey, it’s the Barn, it is always an important game!