What Rick Barnes and players said after Tennessee basketball's loss to Kentucky

Tennessee basketball is looking toward the SEC Tournament after their 85-81 Senior Day loss to Kentucky.

Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes on the sidelines during an NCAA college basketball game between
Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes on the sidelines during an NCAA college basketball game between / Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY
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Tennessee basketball drops the final game of the SEC gauntlet challenge they faced to end the season. After beating ranked Auburn, Alabama, and South Carolina to win the SEC Championship, the Vols needed to be better weren't offensively in their 85-81 loss to Kentucky.

Rick Barnes' Vols have already clinched the one-seed in the SEC Tournament and will need a strong showing to continue building their resume for the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee is competing with Arizona for the final one-seed in the Tournament.

The Vols struggled early on against Kentucky. Barnes credits that to Tennessee's emotions ahead of the big matchup at home. The Vols celebrated their seniors in front of a raucous crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"I told the guys after the game, I thought we were way too emotional at the start of the game. Didn’t execute. Very impatient offensively. Taking shots when we could have gotten more quality shots."

Rick Barnes

Tennessee shot one-for-eight in their first ten possessions of the game. Kentucky didn't start much better but got hot offensively when they needed it to stay ahead of the Vols. As Barnes mentioned, Kentucky built an 11-point lead late in the first half, pushing the Vols to take low-quality shots.

"You just got to do what we've done, believe in what we've done. Am I surprised? Not really. I mean, we've had a brutal three weeks here and, again, I mean, I compliment these guys, but what they did not a lot of teams can do."

Rick Barnes

We've seen the Vols start slowly in a few games throughout the season. This is now the third time it has cost Tennessee the win. The Vols also started slow offensively and lost to Mississippi State and North Carolina.

Tennessee Senior Josiah-Jordan James credited the Wildcats with taking advantage of Tennessee's slow start and getting to the Vols on both ends of the court.

"I give Kentucky a lot of credit, but we definitely weren’t locked in the way we were supposed to be for the first 20 minutes."

Josiah-Jordan James

Kentucky looked like the better team on the court throughout most of the first half. It took Dalton Knecht getting hot to finally get the Vols back in the game right before halftime and lower the deficit to only four points at the break.

James also mentioned how tough the loss was for him. It is tough to go out on Senior Day and have your players perform at the highest level because of the emotions that come with the final home game. He has spent five years in Knoxville and invested a lot into the Vols program.

"It was really, really tough. Thinking about all I've been through, this group has been through and how proud I am of everybody that's worked in this organization. I think the biggest thing is focusing on the bigger picture and the task at hand, which is tough and was really tough today."

Josiah-Jordan James

The Vols struggled on Saturday, there's no doubt about that. We can credit it to Senior Day, the emotions that come with the final home game of the regular season, and Tennessee's leaders not focused in their final game on Rocky Top.

Next. This year is Rick Barnes’s best chance and biggest challenge. This year is Rick Barnes’s best chance and biggest challenge. dark

The short of it is Tennessee did not do Tennessee things. Barnes has to refocus the Vols' attention before they land in Nashville for the SEC Tournament. This year's team has a chance to go on a deep run in late March, but they can't afford to struggle like this on the offensive end of the court when they get ready to play in the NCAA Tournament.