Updated with new story at 7:15 p.m. on Dec. 28, 2019.
KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee men's basketball team spent its first 11 games this season trying to create an identity.
With senior guard Lamonte Turner recently deciding to have season-ending shoulder surgery, the Volunteers found themselves right back where they started: a team with no idea who it is.
Already a work in progress while trying to determine roles for a slew of former role players and a crop of freshmen, Turner's exit seemingly couldn't have happened at a worse time. The Vols looked completely outmanned Saturday afternoon in a 68-48 loss to Wisconsin at Thompson-Boling Arena, their final game before opening Southeastern Conference play next Saturday with a visit from LSU.
On offense, Tennessee (8-4) had nobody who could create a shot, and players sometimes were out of control and attempted things that were out of character. On defense, the Vols struggled against a lineup that featured five 3-point shooters. Tennessee attempted switches, but some of those led to mismatches the Badgers (7-5) took full advantage of.
Saturday's game was already going to be a tough battle for the Vols with Turner available. Without him, it wasn't a fair fight.
"Right now, we're not very good. We're not making shots," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "Our starting backcourt and our three guys on the perimeter were (5-for-27 shooting). Our front line goes (5-for-7). All we have talked about is playing inside out.
"With that said, I think Wisconsin did a good job pushing hard (and) playing good, hard post defense. We were, again, just trying to force it in there as opposed to continuing to move through the offense and see what would happen. Then you see somebody that thinks they've got to go do something, and they end up embarrassing themselves. Throwing the ball here, throwing it there, all over the place."
There were few positives for the Vols, whose leading scorers in the game, redshirt juniors John Fulkerson and Jalen Johnson, had nine points apiece. Johnson made a pair of 3-pointers — his first such makes since a 72-69 win against Virginia Commonwealth on Nov. 30 at the Emerald Coast Classic — and grabbed six rebounds, which matched his Tennessee career high.
Olivier Nkahmhoua, one of the four freshmen who make up half of the scholarship players currently on the roster, grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
However, senior guard Jordan Bowden — who along with Turner was expected to take a leadership role and make much bigger contributions this season — was only 2-for-13 from the floor and 1-for-8 from 3-point range, scoring just seven points in 37 minutes.
Davonte Gaines started in place of Turner and had six points. Fellow freshman Josiah-Jordan James made his first start at point guard and seemed to struggle to know when to shoot and when to pass. He finished with five assists, four points and three turnovers.
"I realize that we've got a bunch of guys that are older and that are playing different roles," Barnes said. "Some of the younger guys are going through this for the first time and all of this is new for them. The fact is that we've got to get better guard play. To make our offense work the way we want it to, we've got to get better decisions made by our guards."
D'Mitrik Trice scored 21 points, Brevin Pritzl added 17 and Nate Reuvers had nine with seven rebounds for Wisconsin, which clearly doesn't have the identity problems the Vols are battling.
The Badgers are constantly moving while looking for open looks, and they didn't miss on Saturday, making 11 3-pointers at a 42% clip. The constant motion caused problems for the Vols, who have lost two of their past three home games after winning 31 straight at Thompson-Boling Arena.
One team looked comfortable on the court there Saturday. It looked like it knew what it was doing.
The other team looked as though it was just trying to learn new roles on the fly. Unfortunately for the Vols, that team is them.
"We've just got to keep playing the way we practice," Gaines said. "The things that we do in practice, we're pretty good at it and then sometimes we get into games and we just don't flow into the offense as well as we should. Moving forward, we've got to focus on executing every time down the floor and to take it one possession at a time."