What Rick Barnes and players said about officiating and this season after Purdue loss

Tennessee fell to Purdue 72-66 in the Elite 8 to end their postseason run and exciting SEC Championship season.

Tennessee v Purdue
Tennessee v Purdue / Mike Mulholland/GettyImages

Tennessee's season ended in the Elite 8 after a loss to Purdue 72-66 to end their postseason run and SEC Championship season. The Vols struggled with foul trouble again on Sunday, which was a large part of Purdue's success against Tennessee. The Boilermakers were able to draw fouls, and Tennessee was not.

Rick Barnes touched on this postgame, with a lot of focus on Purdue center Zach Edey, who drew 16 fouls in the Tennessee game alone. "He's a unique player. He's so hard to officiate. He's an extremely physical player," Barnes said. "It's hard for officials. There's just not many guys like that."

Barnes was careful not to criticize Edey or the officials for their work on the court on Sunday but consistently focused on Edey's uniqueness as a player.

While foul trouble was a big part of the game, Barnes spent a lot of time postgame discussing the team and players. "I can't begin to tell you how special this group was to coach," Barnes noted postgame. "When people see the name Tennessee now, they know they're in for a fight."

This is a credit to Tennessee's physicality. When you step on the same court as a Barnes-coached basketball team, you know they are going to be a well-coached, physical, and defensive-sound team. That was the case this year as everyone bought in on Barnes' philosophy.

"The special thing about this group is character — their character, the character of their families," Barnes said. "Our assistants do a great job in recruiting understanding the character we want in this program."

Barnes also talked about the ceiling of this year's team. It was clear to many Tennessee fans that this would likely be Barnes' best opportunity to take Tennessee to a Final Four. That might be the case as Barnes gets a little closer to retirement at the end of this season, and he knows how good this team has been throughout this year.

"There's no doubt in my mind we all thought we had a team that could win a national championship. We still believe that. We just came up short against a great team."

Dalton Knecht only spent a handful of months on Rocky Top, but that doesn't discount his experience as a Vol and a player under Barnes. " I've never had a relationship as close with a coach," Knecht said postgame. "He told me he would coach me hard, and he did his part of the deal. And he did so much more than that."

Knecht had one of the best seasons I have ever seen from a Tennessee player. He tore through SEC competition, recording the highest point total of any player in the country in conference play. He earned the SEC Player of the Year award and First Team All-American.

He has already mentioned he wished he had spent more time in Knoxville, and fans agree. Although he has only been here one season, Tennessee fans have embraced him as their own, and he is a Vol For Life in many eyes.

Josiah-Jordan James is another VFL but is on the opposite end of the spectrum. JJJ spent five years at Tennessee, all under Barnes. He took Sunday's loss hard but also mentioned his teammates' impact on his time on Rocky Top.

"I can't describe the pain I feel right now, but I can't describe the joy these guys have given me," James said. "I love them so much. I'm proud of what we accomplished together. The hardest part is knowing we won't be able to practice together tomorrow."

It's a tough loss for the Vols. Everyone knew they had the potential to win it all if they could put everything together. Regardless, it was a successful season that ended with a conference championship and tied the deepest NCAA Tournament run in program history. These guys have nothing to hang their heads about after lighting up the SEC and giving fans a great postseason run.

Tennessee fouls out of the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee fouls out of the NCAA Tournament. dark. Next