CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Is it, "How did Tennessee lose to Oakland and Charlotte?"
Or is it, "How did the Volunteers beat seventh-ranked Villanova and third-ranked Pittsburgh?"
Friday became a night of serious questions after the now seventh-ranked Vols fell for the second time in four nights to a mid-major team with at least five losses. Charlotte edged them 49-48.
Charlotte center Phil Jones scored inside in the final 10 seconds, and Tennessee junior guard Cameron Tatum missed a deep jump shot at the buzzer to seal the 49ers' stunning win in Time Warner Cable Arena.
"I thought we had good preparations," said UT head coach Bruce Pearl, who clearly was frustrated with his team's seven free-throw attempts. "I thought the kids were excited about playing Oakland and Charlotte."
The Vols (7-2) had lost 89-82 to Oakland on Tuesday in Knoxville. But Oakland had narrowly lost to some of the nation's other power programs. Charlotte (5-6) still has a losing record and has played the past few games without senior forward Shamari Spears, who was dismissed from the program.
"I'm shocked," Vols freshman forward Tobias Harris said. "Two games in a row. Losses. This just shows what we're doing now just isn't right. We've got to fix it up."
Added junior guard Scotty Hopson: "We definitely were expecting to get a good road win tonight. It definitely didn't turn out that way."
Blame the offense for this one.
"When you hold an opponent to 49 points and 30 percent shooting, you should be able to win," Pearl said.
But not when you're 2-for-your-last-27 from 3-point range. And not when you shoot 22-for-63 from the field and 2-for-17 from 3 in a single game.
"Charlotte did a good job of closing the lane down," Pearl said. "And we obviously struggle to score."
The 49ers struggled to score, too, but with nine seconds left a wide-open Jones caught and shot from two feet, bringing the crowd to its loudest pitch of the night.
"They did a good job of clearing out the floor, overloading the left side so I wouldn't be in there to help, because I was on the shooter," Harris said. "They did a good job with that last play."
The Vols dribbled down the floor and called time out with 3.3 seconds left, but their last shot wasn't a great opportunity. Tatum was well behind the 3-point line.
"Should have been tighter," Pearl said. "Cameron could have gotten it tighter and gotten a much better look."
But he didn't. And it was an ugly end to an ugly offensive performance.
Tatum, UT's third-leading scorer, shot 3-for-9 from the floor. But that was better than Hopson's 6-for-19 and Harris's 6-for-15.
"I was getting good looks," said Hopson, who was 1-for-6 from long range. "They just didn't go down."
Harris and Marquette transfer Maymon - a sophomore forward playing his first game with the Vols - provided much of the early offense with paint putbacks. Each had three defensive and three offensive rebounds in the first half, with Harris scoring eight points and Maymon adding six off the bench.
The Vols muscled their way to an 18-12 lead, but back-to-back Jamar Briscoe 3s tied the score. Three inside buckets bumped UT's lead to 24-20 at the break.
Hopson carried his offensive woes from Tuesday night into Friday's first half. UT's leading scorer missed his first eight shots and finished the half 2-for-12, with both baskets coming in the paint.
"It's really frustrating, but when you've got good looks and you're a scorer, you've got to take the shots," Hopson said.
UT shot 12-for-37 (32.4 percent) in the first 20 minutes, and Charlotte was statistically worse at 7-for-27 (25.9 percent). The Vols were 0-for-10 on 3s at that point but led at the break because of a commanding 25-18 edge on the glass.
The Vols never pulled away in the second half, though they led most of it - as they did against Oakland. Charlotte took its first second-half lead on a Derrio Green 3-pointer with 4:12 left, but Hopson answered with his first 3 to give UT the lead again with 3:39 left.
UT was careless with the ball a few times and couldn't pad its lead, but senior point guard Melvin Goins - one of the team's best free-throw shooters - still had a chance to push the lead to three points with 0:20 left. But he missed the front end of a one-and-one, and the 49ers darted down the court before Jones scored the game's final bucket.
"We crumbled. Again," Maymon said. "That was bad."
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesruckerCTFP or Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.