DALLAS — Tennessee center Kyle Alexander ran out of the American Airlines Center tunnel with his teammates Saturday evening, and for a moment it appeared the 6-foot-11 junior might be able to play in the Volunteers' second-round game at the NCAA tournament.
Then, as Tennessee's post players began a layup and dunking exercise during the pregame warmup, it became apparent to Alexander and Tennessee's staff he would have to miss a game for the first time this season.
Third-seeded Tennessee lost 63-62 to No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago without its best shot blocker and one of its best rebounders in the lineup.
"I came out today and was running a little bit better, but I wanted to go duck in and I couldn't even load out," Alexander said. "I couldn't put the ball over my head. My movement was just limited. I wouldn't have been any help out there, but I wish I could've."
Alexander injured his hip in the second half of Tennessee's first-round win against Wright State on Thursday. At the time, he did not think it was especially serious. But the injury was too painful and too restrictive when he tried to re-enter the game.
The Vols were ahead comfortably in that contest, and his presence was barely missed. But without Alexander in the lineup against Loyola's slashing guards, Tennessee blocked only two shots in a season-ending defeat that came down to the final seconds.
"You've watched us play all year," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "He's been a big part of what we've done. We had these clips before the game showing the guys our defense. And to be honest with you, when we walked out of the room, I said, 'Maybe we shouldn't have shown that, because Kyle was involved in all of them.'"
Redshirt freshman forward John Fulkerson started in Alexander's place and played seven minutes. Freshman forward Derrick Walker, who had played two minutes in each of Tennessee's last two games, came in off the bench less than four minutes into the game and played 18 minutes, scoring two points and grabbing two rebounds.
"We had to step up," Walker said. "That's part of the game. We would have loved to have Kyle out there, but he got hurt the first game, so me and Fulky just had to come in and be ready to play."
Loyola outrebounded Tennessee 27-24 without Alexander on the court.
"It really hurt," Alexander said, speaking of the emotional pain, not the physical pain. "I was emotional before the game because I wanted to be out there. It sucks, because obviously that's the last one of the year and I wasn't out there with my brothers to help them."
Contact David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at facebook.com/volsupdate.