What we have next is nap time.
A tournament fan said: “Great game. Our guys now get some extra rest before the NCAAs.”
Rick Barnes applied a similar spin: “We’ll get rested. The biggest prize is still out there.”
Missouri sent Tennessee home early from the SEC tournament, 79-71. The Vol defense was not good enough but the competition was spirited, pretty much what March Madness is all about, tied 15 times.
“Hard-fought game both ways,” Barnes said. I thought both teams really put a lot of effort and energy into it. Missouri played a terrific second half, shot the ball well. They really hit some big shots at the right time.”
The more aggressive Tigers deserved to win. They hit 60 percent and scored 49 in the second half. They were remarkable from long range (7 of 12). They executed when it mattered most. They came up with a clutch turnover on an inbounds play. They finished with a 10-2 run.
The Tigers’ 6-8 Kobe Brown was the best player on the floor – 24 points, 9-of 13 shooting and nine rebounds. In his spare time, he leads the team in academics.
De’Moi Hodge scored 26.
Nick Honor broke a 69 tie with a long ball with 1:45 to go. Hodge backed that up with another three. Bingo, game almost over.
Some Vols, strongly opposed to losing, fought a really good fight. Santiago Vescovi hit five of nine three-pointers and his two free throws. Olivier Nkamhoua had a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds).
Josiah-Jordan James got into foul trouble, shot poorly and settled for three points and one rebound.
Jahmai Mashack and Tyreke Key were pleasantly surprising in the other direction. Mashack played a lot of point and scored 14. He hit a 32-footer just before halftime for a 33-30 lead.
Key scored 16. Julian Phillips was two rebounds short of a double-double.
Others were less productive. Jonas Aidoo went 0 for 2 with the ball. Uros Plavsic and Tobe Awaka didn’t put up a shot. They’ve been inconsistent all season.
The Tennessee scouting report was spot on. The last thing Barnes said before tipoff was, “Taking care of the basketball is going to be really important. Not let ’em get out in transition with turnovers. They’re going to make you pay if you turn it over.”
The Vols had 14. The Tigers cashed in 16 points. They beat the Vols, 12-4, on fast breaks.
“I think our guys are still learning how to play without Zakai,” said Barnes. “I thought that showed up when they had a couple of runouts where we didn’t have the floor balanced. Give them credit.
“Someone asked about the last four minutes. We played the entire year with Zakai Zeigler. We got to get better at the floor balance at the end without him”
Barnes said the last three or four games are going to help his team.
“I know what we set out to accomplish is still out there in front of us. We just got to get ready to go again.”
The coach said he’s “really proud of the effort our guys put in.” He said Missouri made some key buckets at the right time.
“We needed to get a couple stops there at the end, and we didn’t … We were in a situation where we were scrambling … ball came off, they were able to get that one.”
Barnes is still trying to look ahead.
“The biggest prize that we want to go after is still out there. This team has been very resilient. I don’t know if I’ve been through, in all my years in coaching, what we’ve gone through with injuries.
“But these guys, great attitude, great work ethic. As a coach, I couldn’t ask for any more. We’ve got a chance. I’m telling you, I think we’ve got as much a chance as anybody. If you ask me what I’m thinking right now, one word it would be this team has been very resilient. We’ll be ready next week.”
Up Next: Tennessee awaits the Sunday TV selection show to check the brackets and learn its opening foe in the NCAA Tournament. CBS will have the info, beginning at 6 p.m.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org