Tennessee's Melvin Goins, left, knocks the ball from Charlotte's An'Juan Wilderness, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Dec. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee men's basketball players were more in shock than anger late Friday night in Time Warner Cable Arena.
"I can't believe we're talking about a loss," junior guard Scotty Hopson said.
But that was the precise point of discussion after the seventh-ranked Volunteers (7-2) — who have beaten Big East Conference favorites — lost to their second mediocre, mid-major opponent in five days.
On Tuesday, it was Oakland.
On Friday, it was Charlotte.
UT's players pondered how they could have lost those two games after beating Villanova and Pittsburgh.
Their best guess?
Look in the mirror.
"It's us," freshman forward Tobias Harris said. "We're not doing what we're supposed to be doing."
The good news, if there is any, is that basketball is a long season, and the Vols have already proven plenty this season despite not playing their best. That was Hopson's take, anyway.
Hopson said Tuesday's home game against Southern California is an opportunity to put things back in their proper place.
"I think we're a good team that had a bad week, but we've got to go prove that now," he said. "We had mental lapses, but I think we'll turn it back around next week. Everyone's got to understand what their role and their position on this basketball team is. Once we put that together, I think we'll be fine.
"We came so far to beat Villanova and Pitt, and now we've got these two losses. But I'm not going to look down upon this team. I still feel like we can get a whole lot better, and that's what's going to have to drive us, just the understanding that we have to be accountable for our actions, and everyone's got to continue to push to get better."
Harris said the Vols' problems have been "issues as a team."
"We have to come together more and just play better team basketball," he said. "There's a lot we have to work on. There's a lot we have to do as a team. We have to feed off each other on the court. I don't think we've done a good job of that the last two games."
Offense was certainly Friday's culprit. The defense faltered late against Oakland, but the Vols held Charlotte to 49 points on 30.2 percent shooting.
"You should be able to win with those numbers," UT coach Bruce Pearl said.
But the Vols shot 34.9 percent, took just seven trips to the free-throw line and, most importantly, scored just 48 points against the 49ers.
"I would say we've had three [consecutive] really bad halves of offense," Pearl said. "We scored 50 points in the first half against Oakland, and there was one stretch where we scored on 15 of 20 possessions in a row.
"For the most part [Friday], I think we got looks that we would accept."
But not looks Pearl would prefer.
Charlotte mostly hunkered down in a zone defense, and UT — which has made just two of its past 27 3-point attempts — stayed content to shoot over it.
As Pearl said, "the post was open, but we didn't do a good job feeding the posts in a time where the posts could score."
"We should have gone inside more," Harris said. "We didn't take advantage of some things down there we should have taken advantage of."
Hopson said a crisper offense would have prevented the Vols from "settling" for jumpers late in the shot clock.
"I think there's a lot of small stuff within the offense that we don't do," Hopson said. "Sometimes we don't set screens right, or we don't make the certain cut if it's not our play call. We've got to stick to the details and the small things, and the bigger things will take care of themselves."
Aside from all that, though, the Vols — like the Oakland game — still led until late in the second half. As sophomore forward Jeronne Maymon said, UT simply "crumbled" both nights.
Pearl said consecutive late collapses were "obviously very disconcerting," and he pinned both on the offense.
"That's just not something that typically happens to us," Pearl said.
"Our veteran players have got to be accountable and just understand that we are the ones that ultimately have to come out and close games," Hopson said. "We're the experienced players, so in those situations we have to be ready."