Vols vow that Texas A&M loss will not foreshadow March performance

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee and Texas A&M players battle for a rebound during Saturday night's 85-69 win by the Aggies over the No. 6 Volunteers.
Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee and Texas A&M players battle for a rebound during Saturday night's 85-69 win by the Aggies over the No. 6 Volunteers.

Tennessee suffered its first double-digit loss of the season Saturday night with the 85-69 defeat at Texas A&M.

The double-digit deficit existed for the final 29 minutes of the contest, and the humbling setback for the No. 6 Volunteers occurred against an unranked team. Surely such a dismal performance nearing mid February would be cause for at least a little alarm, right?

“It’s college basketball,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said in a news conference after the Vols fell to 17-6 overall and to 7-3 in Southeastern Conference play. “We’ve all got a long way to go, and I tell everybody that the team that won the national championship a year ago went through a five-game skid this time of the year and got it going at the right time. It only hurts you if you don’t learn from it and if you don’t respond from it.

“I think we’ve got a program that’s transparent with one another, and we’ll talk about that.”

Connecticut did lose five times in a six-game stretch last season before catching fire and winning all six NCAA tournament contests by more than a dozen points. This season’s Huskies have lost just twice, matching Purdue and Grand Canyon for the fewest setbacks nationally, and no team seems immune from the occasional rough two hours.

Saturday also contained No. 11 Wisconsin getting hammered 78-56 at unranked Rutgers and No. 12 Auburn losing badly, 81-65, at unranked Florida.

“It’s a long season, and stuff like this happens,” Tennessee junior guard Jahmai Mashack said. “It was an away game against a good team that’s on a run. It seems like we’re meeting good teams when they’re at the peak of their run and getting that momentum.

“It’s tough, but it’s a long season, and this game is not going to dictate how we play in March.”

Tennessee arguably had its worst defensive outing against the Aggies, yielding more than 80 points for just the third time this season. The first two occasions were in the 100-92 loss at North Carolina and the 103-92 win at Kentucky, but those two programs rank among the top-25 nationally in scoring offense.

The Aggies play at a much slower pace and rank 176th nationally with 74.2 points a game, but they erupted at Tennessee’s expense behind 52 combined points from guards Tyrece Radford and Wade Taylor IV.

“They were getting to the paint, and there really wasn’t a lot of resistance there,” Mashack said. “It’s very surprising and very frustrating, especially for me. I had to guard some of their bigger guys, so I didn’t really get a chance to guard Wade and Radford as much as I wanted to just because they were playing bigger guys, and we were really trying to put an emphasis on boxing out so they wouldn’t get offensive rebounds.

“It was very, very frustrating for me, because I definitely wanted to guard Wade and Radford a lot more.”

Then there was the easiest way to be your own worst enemy — missed free throws. Tennessee was 15-of-25 attempting foul shots for its second 60.0% performance in four games, with leading scorer Dalton Knecht going just 4-of-9.

The Vols were 12-of-20 at the line in their 63-59 home loss to South Carolina.

“I think we missed three or four two-shot fouls,” Barnes said. “Those are turnovers, and when you’re behind like that and you’re trying to get back in the game, you’ve got to capitalize, especially when you’re not having that great of a night.”

Tennessee will remain on the road for a Wednesday night matchup (9 on ESPN2) at Arkansas.

Unwanted chant

During the waning moments of Saturday’s game, Aggies fans began the “overrated” chant, which has been a Barnes pet peeve for many years.

“I think someone should teach them about ‘overrated,’ because I think it takes away from their win,” Barnes said when asked about Texas A&M’s atmosphere. “They’re a good basketball team, and when you start chanting ‘overrated,’ you’re diminishing the fact that their team just played a heck of a basketball game and beat a good team.

“If we’re overrated, what does it say for their team?”

Odds and ends

Though the Vols lost by 16, they outscored the Aggies by three during Mashack’s 16 minutes and 11 seconds on the floor. … Barnes on the offensive plan of the Aggies: “There is no doubt they felt they wanted to go at Dalton.” … Saturday’s 16-point loss was the largest for the Vols since they were ambushed 107-79 at Kentucky on Jan. 15, 2022. … Junior point guard Zakai Zeigler turned in Tennessee’s first 40-minute performance since Zeigler did it last season at Mississippi State.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com

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