After trailing by eight at the half, and falling even further behind in the second half, Tennessee’s late game rally wasn’t enough to salvage victory and avoid their second loss of the season.
The Vols fell to the UTEP Miners in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Thursday night, Nov. 28, 78-70 in a game that went into the next morning after a late start.
It’s the second loss of the season for a Tennessee basketball team that entered the season with such high hopes. Their first loss, of course, came on opening night against Xavier, who they will face on Friday at 1 p.m. in the losers bracket of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
Dismal shooting was the Vols’ undoing yet again. Tennessee shot 35 percent from the field, including 14 percent from beyond the arc, and 59 percent from the free-throw-line (missed 16 free throws throughout the night). Their shooting performance was eerily similar to the shooting display they put on in their aforementioned loss to Xavier.
Jordan McRae again led the way for the Vols in scoring as he has in all five games this season. He finished with 22 points and almost single-handedly brought the Vols back late in the game.
Jarnell Stokes also had a good game amidst a collective disappointing team effort. He finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds, his second double-double of the season.
After trailing by eight at the half, Tennessee came out aggressively on the defensive end to try and quickly close the gap on the Miners. However, their plan backfired, and the Vols found themselves backed into a corner, down by as many as 15 points in no time.
The two teams traded baskets back-and-forth for most of the second half, making it impossible for the Vols to get within striking distance. Not until they put the press on for good late in the second half did they finally see some success.
Tennessee drew within six points of UTEP’s lead with just over two minutes remaining in the game, but due to their poor free-throw shooting effort, some unlikely offensive fouls and UTEP’s ability to quickly break the press and score, the Vols could draw no closer.
The Vols will get their rematch against Xavier on Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. in the second round, but will get it in the losers bracket, where neither team expected to be come Friday’s round of matchups.
For more information on Tennessee’s rematch against Xavier, here’s an excerpt from the Battle 4 Atlantis preview as a whole concerning the Musketeers.
Xavier: The Vols have already faced, and lost in a 67-63 decision, to Xavier earlier this year. Since then the Musketeers have remained undefeated, and have beaten every opponent by at least 23 points.
Semaj Christon leads the Musketeers in scoring, and had a phenomenal night when he played Tennessee a few weeks back while everyone else struggled to find the net. The sophomore finished with 18 points against the Vols, his second best effort of the season (had 20 points against Morehead St.).
Christon, however, wasn’t alone that night, as he had plenty of help from six-foot-10 junior Matt Stainbrook.
Stainbrook is second on the team in scoring for Xavier, and leads the team in rebounds by averaging 9.2 per game. Back on Nov. 12 against the Vols he pulled in nine boards while battling both Stokes and Maymon on the glass, and was a large part in getting Stokes to foul out late in the second half.
Maymon and Stokes will have to look for redemption down in the post if they get their second shot at Xavier, while the Vols backcourt will have to do a better job containing Christon on the defensive end.
Tennessee and Xavier will tip-off for the second time this season on Friday, Nov. 29 at 1 p.m. on AXS TV.
Read more Tennessee rumors, news and opinion on our Tennessee basketball page