Tennessee entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 5 seed in the midwest region, drawing the Pac-12 champion Oregon State Beavers. Senior forward John Fulkerson was ruled out shortly before the game, meaning the Volunteers would be missing a key cog of the attack.
The Volunteers seemed to rally last week at the SEC Tournament without Fulkerson in the lineup, but today — they fell flat on their face.
The start could not have been worse for Tennessee. Nine points in the first ten minutes of play was the story, as the Volunteers began 0-8 from three point range. Nothing was clicking, as Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson continued to get stonewalled in the paint. Santiago Vescovi and Victor Bailey couldn’t buy a bounce from the outside, while Yves Pons picked up two quick fouls.
Credit the Beavers, who absolutely locked up Tennessee in the first half with outstanding defense.
A 27-11 lead for Oregon State with under five minutes to play in the first half already seemed unsurmountable. Tennessee didn’t have an answer for Roman Silva down low with John Fulkerson inactive and with Pons in foul trouble. He started 6-6 from the floor, while Jarod Lucas added a couple of threes. With the state of the Tennessee offense, that was more than enough to establish a huge early lead.
Tennessee cut the lead to 14 at the break, thanks to a Keon Johnson coast-to-coast drive. Rick Barnes had his work cut out for him at halftime, once again tasked with waking up a sleepwalking offense.
Yves Pons picked up his third foul in the opening seconds of the second half.
Tennessee’s offense did not show up.
Oregon State pushed the lead to 20 points five minutes into the second half. It was Ethan Thompson dropping in a three-pointer — the Beavers’ seventh of the game to that point. It was getting late, and our new score was Oregon State 47, Tennessee 27.
If the Volunteers had anything left in the tank, now was the time to show it. Keon Johnson didn’t let up, answering with a score at the rim. Josiah-Jordan James followed that with a putback bucket.
But Maurice Calloo stopped that 7-0 run in its tracks with a corner three. Tennessee promptly followed that with a turnover, and Pons picked up his fourth foul. Josiah-Jordan James turned his ankle on the next possession heading to the hoop.
What could go wrong, did go wrong for Tennessee today.
Oregon State held a 15 point lead with under eight minutes to play. That lead was worked up to 20 again, before Tennessee found another quick 8-0 run. Keon Johnson drilled a three to keep the Vols breathing, trailing 62-50 with under four minutes to play.
Tennessee waited about 35 minutes too long to find their sense of urgency, though. Oregon State closed this one out, managing a ten point lead to the final buzzer.
Final score: Oregon State 70, Tennessee 56
More reaction on this one to follow…