After winning handedly the past four games by at least 15 points in each contest, a dismal second half performance landed Tennessee basketball their first loss in just their second SEC game of the season. The Vols dropped their fifth game of the season to Texas A&M (11-4) 57-56 on the heels of a last second three pointer by the Aggies.
Saturday night was a tale of two halves for both teams. Despite Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes getting in foul trouble early, the Vols were still able to jump out to an early 32-18 halftime lead on the Aggies, by going on a 10-1 run to end the half.
Tennessee’s lead was largely, in part, due to their three-point shooting, and Texas A&M’s struggles shooting from the field period.
The Vols were 4-of-10 from behind the arc in the first half while the aggies hit only two shots more from the field as a whole, 6-of-24, with only two shots connecting from three.
In the second half the Aggies beat the Vols at what helped them get the early advantage by connecting on 14 of their 26 attempts from the field, including 6-of-10 from three, which includes the game-winner, while Tennessee struggled to shoot 40 percent from the field while hitting only one of their seven threes attempted in the second half.
Texas A&M’s Antwan Space, who didn’t play in the first half, hit what would eventually be the game-winning three-pointer with 4.4 seconds left in the game. Despite having three timeouts, Cuonzo Martin decided to let his team just wing it on the final possession, which resulted in an air ball by McRae. The Aggies outscored the Vols 14-6 in the final 5:15 to take the victory.
“I really just wanted to get the ball and push it,” Martin said. “I told our guys that’s just a tough, painful loss, but we have to bounce back from it and come back and be ready to go Monday.”
McRae’s struggles were obvious in Saturday’s loss. The early foul trouble kept him sidelined for the majority of the game, but even when in the game he couldn’t get anything going as he hit only two-of-eight shots from the floor while finishing with nine points.
“I think more than anything foul trouble got our guys (Stokes and McRae),” Martin said. “Really got them out of rhythm.”
Despite McRae and Stokes troubles Tennessee still had several chances to put the game away. Their biggest chance came from the free-throw stripe, where they’ve struggled most of the season, when Jeronne Maymon missed two crucial free-throws. Had he hit just one the game would have gone to overtime, two and the Vols come out with their fifth straight victory.
Tennessee’s next game will be at home against Auburn on Jan. 15. Tip off will be at 7 p.m. on CSS.