It’s hard to make any positive case for a team ranked No. 2 less than two weeks ago losing at home to an unranked team, their third loss in four games. However, Tennessee basketball may have found new life in its 86-85 loss to the Missouri Tigers.
Even when the Vols were looking like a national championship team, the concern was offense. they shot below 32 percent from three against the Texas Longhorns, and you need to shoot above 35 percent to win it all.
The question that arose from that game was whether or not Tennessee basketball had enough offense to compete in certain situations. Against the Florida Gators and Vanderbilt Commodores, they didn’t seem to.
However, against Mizzou, that offense came alive. Julian Phillips left with an injury, Josiah-Jordan James missed another game, and quite a few players aren’t 100 percent.
Still, Mizzou delivered an onslaught and was impossible to stop from outside. That red-hot three-point shooting put them up 17 points in the second half.
Somehow, though, the Vols were able to withstand it and retake the lead. They went up by six and had a three-point lead late. If not for a missed free throw by Santiago Vescovi and a weird foul call, they win.
Before you think it’s all negative in a loss like this, keep in mind Missouri shot 14-of-26 from three. They are fourth in the SEC, only behind the Vols, and they have four wins over teams who were in the top 25 win they faced them.
Simply put, Missouri has proven its good enough to beat anybody if it gets that red-hot shooting the ball. The fact that the Vols were able to hang in such a game proves, believe it or not, that they can withstand that onslaught.
Tyreke Key was finally able to find his groove in SEC play with 23 points. Zakai Zeigler had 11 points and 10 assists. Vescovi’s three-point shot seems to be returning, as he had 16 points and was 4-of-9 from outside.
Now, there are still some concerns. Vescovi is now showing a lack of the clutch gene, as he has now missed key free throws to clinch back to back games.
At the same time, Tennessee basketball has major issues with its inside-out game. Uros Plavsic can’t be trusted down low to make the right move, and nobody in the post is a good passer, so the outside shooters are never given the ball in the open spot.
There’s still time to work on those things, though, and quite honestly, Saturday’s loss was the least disturbing loss of any one the Vols have faced all year except the Arizona Wildcats. No panic is needed from that one.
Remember this. Defense doesn’t win championships in college basketball. Offense does. The Vols’ offense proved Saturday, even when short-handed, it can be next-level elite when needed.
That’s what will be crucial for Tennessee basketball in March. Although Rick Barnes has a lot to work on, the scoring seems to be hitting its stride. Now, the clutch gene from players needs to follow.