CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Friday afternoon started rather well for the Tennessee men’s basketball team.
It didn’t take long for things to fall apart, though, and the worst may be yet to come for the Volunteers.
Eighth-seeded Michigan emphatically sent the ninth-seeded Vols into a future filled with questions and uncertainty with a 75-45 whipping in the NCAA tournament’s West Regional at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“This is a very embarrassing feeling, just the way we went out,” said Scotty Hopson, UT’s leading scorer who scored a season-low four points and had three turnovers.
“It was embarrassing.”
What will happen with UT coach Bruce Pearl tops the list of offseason questions. Pearl’s return for a seventh season as the Vols’ head man seems more uncertain than ever following comments by UT athletic director Mike Hamilton in a radio interview Wednesday.
“I don’t know any more about our status,” Pearl said in the tunnels of the arena long after the final horn had sounded. “I certainly didn’t help myself, but I don’t think that the outcome of the game was going to be a huge factor in our status as we move forward.
“Just like I’ll go back and visit with the players and find out what they’re each going to do, I’ll wait to hear from Mike and find out when I am going to be evaluated, and I hope that they still have confidence in their basketball coach and my leadership and what we’ve done and what we are going to plan on continuing to do.
“The leadership at the university is in great hands. I have confidence that they still have confidence in me as the leader of this program. Late in the year I was surprised to hear that there had been some change in that, so I was caught off guard.
“My faith in the Lord is strong, and I’m so blessed to have that. My family has been great, and I have confidence in our leadership. I hope I still have their confidence. If I don’t, I guess I’ll hear about it and we’ll see what happens.”
What happened on the floor Friday was forgettable for Pearl and the Vols (19-15).
UT led 23-17 at the 7:14 mark of the first half when Michigan, which started 8-of-24 from the field and just 1-of-9 on their beloved 3-point shots, closed the half on a 16-6 run as the Vols went more than seven minutes between baskets. The Wolverines (21-13) started the second half with a 19-2 run to take a 21-point lead and later scored 11 straight points to balloon the lead to 30.
“We just didn’t play with no heart out there [in the second half],” said freshman forward Tobias Harris, who scored all 19 of his points in the first half. “We didn’t expect them to come out in the second half like that, but those were a lot of our mistakes out there.”
Said Hopson: “We don’t quit as a team, but it’s hard to say that when you see what happens out there on the basketball floor.”
Michigan shot 64 percent with six treys in outscoring UT 42-16 after halftime. The smaller Wolverines held a 36-26 edge on the glass and a 46-22 advantage in the paint.
“It seemed like we gave up, and we didn’t play with any heart the second half,” guard Josh Bone said. “I don’t know what it was. You can’t let a team full of shooters be confident because they’re going to keep on knocking down shots. We didn’t do anything to slow them down.”
“You can nitpick at everything why we lost the game,” said center Brian Williams. “It’s obvious. From every aspect of basketball they outplayed us.”
Trae Golden was UT’s second-leading scorer with six points. UT shot 26 percent after halftime and made just three of 18 3-point shots for the game.
Zack Novak, a 6-foot-4 forward, led Michigan with 14 points (four 3s) and 10 rebounds. Matt Vogrich and Stu Douglass scored 11 apiece, and Darius Morris had eight points, six rebounds and nine assists.
“We’ve not had a loss like this all year,” Pearl said. “I think it would be hard to say the distractions weren’t a factor, but that’s my responsibility to ensure that they aren’t. I’ve really tried to influence the players through all this as much as I possibly can, and I think they’ll tell you that with great consistency.
“We did have to address some things here in Charlotte because I think they were obviously caught off guard, and we didn’t respond to that well, and we didn’t respond well to the elevated play that Michigan put on us. We had way too many guys just not step up at this time. We as a team struggled to make each other better. I struggled to make them better. They struggled to make each other better on the offensive and defensive end.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...