If you think that last shot was no big deal …

Marvin Westwestwords

Go ahead, try to convince me that it was just another missed jump shot, no big deal.

Keep trying.

I thought what happened to Josiah-Jordan James was the perfect example of the wonderful, awful difference in winning and losing.

Tennessee at Texas was a historical game, first time back for Rick Barnes at the arena where he spent 17 successful seasons and got dumped after a slump because he wouldn’t sacrifice a couple of assistant coaches.

This strange Tennessee team failed to deliver the personal payback. It could have forced entitled Texans to consider repentance for what they had done.

Alas, for 35 minutes, the Vols were some degree of terrible in dealing with the Longhorns’ tenacious defense. For the longest time, they could not score. Then they could not miss — until the shot they needed most. The finish was almost sensational.

A forever memory was there for the taking, high drama, one point behind, race against the clock, open look.

Tell me again it was no big deal. Persuade me that the Vols lost the game five other ways. They missed half their free throws. They had four shot-clock violations. They dribbled into turnovers. They stumbled around for more than seven minutes between baskets. Their field-goal accuracy was a discouraging 35.8 percent.

JJJ is honest. He knows what the hit-or-miss meant. He felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“I’m sorry. I apologize profusely. I feel like I let a lot of people down.”

Teammates rejected that point of view. They said the game wasn’t defined by that last shot.

It was.

James sort of qualified for the attempt because he had helped in the miraculous comeback. Alas, season statistics said Zakai Zeigler’s pass set up a risky situation. James has the worst field-goal percentage (32.8) among the nine who play the most.

Zeigler said James was open and that he’d do what he did 10 times out of 10.

“We couldn’t ask for a better look,” Barnes said.

Hmmmm. How about a closer look?

It might have been better if ZZ had tried to take the ball to the rim with the hope that officials didn’t swallow their whistles. Under different circumstances, it would have been logical for Santiago Vescovi to shoot the decisive shot.

As it was, the Longhorns wouldn’t allow Vescovi to do anything except breathe. They generally denied the ball. They convinced him that it just wasn’t his night. Santi was 0-for-6 before a late layup. He missed a try for three in the final minute.

The loss at Texas in no way wrecks the season. The way the Vols lost is cause for concern. They were again inept at the free-throw line. They repeated past errors. There was a classic blunder at the end of the half. Olivier Nkamhoua fouled on a desperation 3-point attempt from mid-court.

Uros Plavsic did that two or three weeks ago and set off a very detailed coaching explanation of what to do and what not to do. So soon lessons are forgotten.

Almost forgot to mention that Tennessee made two field goals in the first 13:23 of the second half against the Longhorns. The worst segment was 16 attempts and 15 misses.

Barnes said it was a tough game. That was an over-simplification.

“I thought they played hard … Disappointed a little bit, the way we didn’t take shots early. And I really thought we got back on our heels.

“But I’m happy with the way we fought to the end, gave ourselves a chance to win… We’ve got to get more consistent… I told the team that we’ve played enough games that we don’t need to learn any more lessons about not understanding how you have to play for 40 minutes on both ends of the court.”

The Big 12-SEC Challenge is almost a good idea with bad timing. As it is, it makes little sense to interrupt two conference races to provide ESPN with another variety show. It’s just money.

Consider the highlights:

Kentucky 80, Kansas 62, the two winningest programs in college basketball history playing on the hallowed floor of Allen Fieldhouse. That matchup would draw a TV crowd any Saturday in December.

Auburn 86, Oklahoma 68, famous football names doing a little something between bowl games and spring practice. It helped that the Tigers are No. 1 in the polls. Nothing was said about them being on probation for the next four years.

Alabama 87, Baylor 78, indeed a stunning upset.

Texas 52, Tennessee 51 against the backdrop of Barnes’ return.

The SEC-Big 12 challenge has another flaw. The Big 12 has only 10 teams. That means Vanderbilt, South Carolina and a couple of other SEC powers didn’t get to play.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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