The “whoosh” you heard Saturday night was some of the steam spilling out of Tennessee’s No. 6 basketball ranking.
The Vols didn’t look all that hot at College Station. Texas A&M dictated pace and tone, won the backboard battle, hit 11 three-pointers, played tougher on defense and never really gave the Vols a chance.
The home team romped, 85-69. Tennessee never led. The look was worse than the score, nothing like the Vols’ performance a week ago at Kentucky.
“We weren’t very good,” said coach Rich Barnes in a classic understatement. Tennessee shot 37 percent on field-goal attempts, missed 10 free throws and 21 of 29 long shots.
Texas A&M was outstanding, very different from how it had often appeared. The triumph was a season highlight.
The Aggies in October were projected as the second-best team in the Southeastern Conference. They stumbled along at 5-4 through the first half of the league race. Their formula wasn’t very exciting – shoot and hope.
Three-point accuracy was a real weakness – 25 percent in SEC games. Misses weren’t a total disaster because they were dominant at rebounding, best in the conference.
Andersson Garcia is the poster person on the boards, a 6-7 migratory forward who may have been born in Chabet el Ameur, Algeria, but grew up in Moca, Dominican Republic, found his way to Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga and played two years at Mississippi State.
As an Aggie, he leads the SEC in hustle rebounding and is second nationally on the offensive boards. He had 17 rebounds against Tennessee.
Texas A&M wasn’t anything like the scouting report. It hit four of its first five three-point attempts and eight of the first dozen. Wade Taylor made five in a row. He finished with 25 points. Guard Tyrece Radford scored 27.
Dalton Knecht again led the Vols with 22 points and seven rebounds. He did not have a good game. He missed five free throws and crucial minutes because of foul troubles.
Zakai Zeigler scored 15 but missed 10 of 15 field-goal attempts (one of eight on threes). He did some other things well – six rebounds, four steals and six assists. Jahmai Mashack competed fiercely and contributed eight points and five rebounds.
Nobody else did anything to get excited about.
Tennessee trailed by 42-28 at intermission. It went more than eight minutes without a field goal (four plus to end the first half and four more to begin the second). It was down by 53-31 at the low point.
The Vols did not quit. The deficit was only 12 with 5:51 remaining.
Barnes did not push the panic button.
“It’s college basketball. There is still a long way to go. A year ago, the team that won the national championship went through a five-game skid this time of year and got it going at the right time.
“And it only hurts you if you don’t learn from it, if you don’t respond. You have to look at it and be honest with yourself.”
Barnes said he and the staff will break down the video and see where they didn’t do a good job.
“I think we got a program that’s transparent with each other. We’ll talk about that, but still, we got it down to 12 with plenty of time, but we couldn’t move the needle past that.”
The coach thinks Texas A&M is a tournament team.
“No doubt. I think we got 10 right now … I think we got the best basketball league in the country. And I don’t think it’s close. I don’t care what anybody says. Right now the SEC is the best basketball league in the country.”
The coach didn’t seem all that surprised by the Aggies’ three-point barrage. He did fret some about the drives to the rim.
“Defensively, I don’t think we did a great job when their two key guys got their average plus and did a really good job moving the ball.”
He said he’d look at the video to be sure but “it probably was more one-on-one.”
“We got ourselves in a hole, and they had a lot to do with that. But we just never seemed like we were in sync and playing the way we want to play.”
Barnes saw what others recognized; it was not a good Knecht game.
“Dalton, you look at his numbers, they look good, but for a guy that can score like he can, you can’t go – what was it from the free throw line? – four-for-nine …”
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is email@example.com