In one of the most shocking upsets of Rick Barnes’ career with Tennessee basketball, the Vols fell to the Colorado Buffaloes 78-66 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Sunday. UT, ranked No. 11 in both polls, was coming off a 75-43 win over the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles in its opener.
Colorado, though, was coming off a shocking upset loss to the Grambling Tigers. Tad Boyle’s team had lost to the Vols in Boulder, Colo., last year and Knoxville, Tenn., the year before. It was a back and forth game for a while, but Colorado pulled away in the second half. Up 57-52, they went on a 9-0 run with seven and a half minutes to go to take control.
Rocky Top now falls to 1-1 and will host the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles Wednesday. Colorado improves to 2-1 and will face the UMASS Minutemen Thursday in South Carolina to open the three-day Myrtle Beach Invitational. Here are three things we learned from Tennessee basketball’s first loss of the season.
1. Offense was horrible in the paint.
It’s typical to point to a bad three-point shooting day when a team like the Vols loses, and indeed, they were 10-of-37, or 27 percent, from outside. However, Colorado was only 8-of-26, or 30.8 percent, so it shouldn’t have made too much of a difference. What changed was the Vols’ offense inside the arc. UT was 6-of-26 on two-pointers in the game.
At one point, the guards were 2-of-11 around the rim. Despite 12 points, Zakai Zeigler missed numerous shots in the paint. Santiago Vescovi didn’t help going 2-of-11 from three despite 11 points. The same was true of Tyreke Key, who had 15 points but was 0-of-4 from two. Josiah-Jordan James had 15 points as well but was 1-of-3 inside the arc.
2. Colorado was more physical.
Building off the previous post, part of the reason Tennessee basketball struggled so much inside was because the post game was awful. Uros Plavsic left with an ankle injury three minutes in, and the Vols were somehow unable to offset what he brought to the table. Colorado just outhustled the Vols, evidenced by their 47-38 rebounding advantage.
To be fair, Olivier Nkamhoua had 10 rebounds, but he was 1-of-8 from the field and settled for four threes. Julian Phillips was 1-of-6 and settled for three threes. UT did get to the free throw line and hit 24 of 30 from there, but the physical play of Colorado in causing that is what made them so erratic inside.
3. Second-half defense was a disaster.
Despite Plavsic’s injury and all the offensive issues, a staple of the Vols under Barnes is that their defense can carry them when they are struggling like that. Well, the defense didn’t carry them in the second half. Colorado had 46 points that half and just went off after a relatively quiet first half.
For the game, Tennessee basketball did force 19 turnovers. Vescovi had five steals, James had three, and Key had two. James also had two blocks. He was the only one playing physical. However, James is just getting healthy and has been banged up, so playing 27 minutes slowed him late. Nobody else stepped up, and that allowed Colorado to go off.