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Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee's Olivier Nkamhoua challenges Alabama's Jaden Shackelford during Wednesday night's game in Tuscaloosa, which marked the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.

Defeating Alabama inside Coleman Coliseum is tough enough these days, but Tennessee was assigned that task Wednesday night without its leading scorer and rebounder.

The No. 14 Volunteers were without Kennedy Chandler and John Fulkerson for their Southeastern Conference opener but still led most of the way before succumbing to the No. 19 Crimson Tide 73-68. Tennessee's freshman point guard and sixth-year senior forward displayed symptoms after returning from Christmas and tested positive for COVID.

An Olivier Nkamhoua 3-pointer with 54 seconds remaining gave Tennessee a 68-67 lead, but Keon Ellis answered with a 3-pointer eight seconds later to put Alabama back up 70-68. Victor Bailey and Zakai Zeigler missed late 3-point attempts for the Vols, while JD Davidson and Noah Gurley combined for three free throws to provide the final tally.

Gurley scored a game-high 20 points for Alabama (10-3), which has now won 17 consecutive home games, while Jahvon Quinerly added 18. Nkamhoua led the Vols (9-3) with 15, while Santiago Vescovi chipped in 13 and Zeigler 11.

A Brandon Huntley-Hatfield layup with 3:25 before halftime gave Tennessee its largest advantage at 33-23, but the Crimson Tide closed on a 10-0 run to tie the game at the break.

The Vols are off until hosting Ole Miss next Wednesday night.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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