'We can get out of it': Rick Barnes staying positive after another gut-wrenching loss

On3 imageby:Grant Ramey02/11/23


Santiago Vescovi
Tennessee's Santiago Vescovi against Missouri (Tennessee Athletics)

The ending was the same. How No. 6 Tennessee got there Saturday night, though, was different. 

Wednesday, at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, it was a wide open Tyrin Lawrence hitting a corner 3-point shot as time expired as Vanderbilt sank the Vols 66-65

Santiago Vescovi missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at the foul line with 7.1 seconds left, giving the Commodores life. Then the ‘Dores cashed it in on a defensive breakdown by Tennessee in the final 4.8 seconds. 

Saturday night, back home at Thompson-Boling Arena, it was Missouri’s DeAndre Gholston launching a running, desperation 3-pointer, not far in front of the halfcourt line, to give Mizzou an 86-85 win

The Vols had erased a 17-point deficit with 17 minutes left with a frantic rally in the second half, building the lead to as much as six before seeing it come undone in last 4.2 seconds. 

“It’s a different feeling than the one the other night,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said after his team’s second straight buzzer-beating loss.

Tennessee has lost three of its last four games after 18-3 start

The Vols (19-6, 8-4 SEC) now look for a way forward after losing three out of their last four games, the last two decided on the last shot. 

Barnes didn’t have far to look, spending his postgame press conference building his group back up.

“We love our team,” Barnes said. “We know these guys care. They came out and they wanted to play. They played against a team tonight — and we are going to play against one Wednesday night — that can make 13 threes. The way we fought back, we were down two guys that played minutes for us.”

Missouri (19-6, 7-5) hit 14 of 26 shots from the 3-point line, the most threes Tennessee has allowed this season. Vanderbilt held that mark for three days, after hitting what was a season high of 10 against the Vols on Wednesday.

Tennessee rallied behind Tyreke Key’s season-high 23 points. He scored 21 in the second half alone, going 5-for-7 from the 3-point line and 6-for-6 from the foul line in the second half. 

The Vols were missing senior wing Josiah-Jordan James (sprained left ankle) and didn’t have freshman wing Julian Phillips (hip flexor) in the second half. James was hurt in the final minute at Vanderbilt and Phillips got hurt in practice Friday, but tried to play through it.

Vescovi, who finished with 17 points, made two free throws 7.1 seconds, to put Tennessee ahead by three. Missouri made one of two free throws after the Vols fouled.

Mizzou then fouled Vescovi before the ensuing inbound, with 4.2 seconds left. The senior guard missed the first free-throw attempt and freshman power forward Tobe Awaka was called for a lane violation on the second attempt, setting up the Missouri game-winner.

Before disaster struck — again — Tennessee had gone from down 17 with 17:33 left to up six with 4:53 to go, with Key scoring all of 21 second-half points during the run. Vescovi made two free throws to tie the game with 8:41 left and put the Vols ahead with a three a minute later. 

He tied the game twice in the closing minutes at Vandy, with a putback around the rim and a wing three, before missing the late free throws. 

“I just believe in these guys, I do,” Barnes said. “I have been doing it long enough to know you hit some spells like this and as quickly as we got in it, we can get out of it. I think that once we do get out of it, which I know we will, we will get going trending in the right direction to be where we want to be where it is all said and done.”

Up Next: No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Alabama, Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network

The road only gets tougher from here.

No. 3 Alabama (22-3, 12-0) comes to town Wednesday, a 7 p.m. Eastern Time game (TV: ESPN2) at Thompson-Boling Arena. After that, Tennessee goes to Kentucky and Texas A&M for back-to-back road games. 

“I think we’re going to get it going,” Barnes said. “We need it now, to get it going at the right time. A lot of teams have gone through it this year. It’s hit us here, at a time when you don’t want it to. But we’ll grow from it.”

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