Rick Barnes isn't concerned about his Tennessee basketball team after 85-69 loss at Texas A&M

On3 imageby:Grant Ramey02/11/24

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Rick Barnes Postgame Press Conference Texas A&m 85, No. 6 Tennessee 69

COLLEGE STATION — Rick Barnes isn’t concerned. Neither is Jahmai Mashack. No. 6 Tennessee’s 85-69 loss at Texas A&M Saturday night didn’t rattle either one, even if the Vols spent 40 minutes at Reed Arena looking like they were.

“I mean, it’s college basketball,” Barnes said during his postgame press conference. “A long way to go.”

“It’s a long season,” Mashack added, “and stuff like this happens.”

It happened less than two weeks ago at Thompson-Boling Arena, when South Carolina came to Knoxville and stunned the Vols in a 63-59 upset. Tennessee answered with 103 points in a win over Kentucky at Rupp Arena a week ago, then went back home for a 20-point win over LSU. 

But any momentum that had been created since the South Carolina loss never made the trip to Texas. 

Tyrece Radford scored a game-high 27 points and Wade Taylor IV had 23 as Texas A&M shot over Tennessee’s defense at the 3-point line, drove past the Vols and finished at the rim and controlled the glass when shots didn’t fall, scoring 15 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds 

The Aggies (15-8, 6-4 SEC) had 43 rebounds to Tennessee’s 35, with Andersson Garcia grabbing 17 on his own, including nine offensive boards. 

“It’s an away game,” Mashack said. “It’s a good team. They’re on a run. It seems like we’re meeting good teams when they’re just at the peak of their run and getting that momentum. And they executed well. They got to wherever they wanted to get to as far the spots they wanted.”

‘We’re going be an even better team in March … but it’s not March yet’

Dalton Knecht scored 22 for the Vols (17-6, 7-3), but 10 came in the final five minutes. Zakai Zeigler scored 15 points but went 1-for-8 at the 3-point line. 

Jonas Aidoo had six points and five rebounds, all in the first half. Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James combined for nine points on 3-for-13 shooting. Jordan Gainey had four points off the bench, going 1-for-5. Mashack had eight points and five rebounds in 16 minutes. 

Instead of looking back at an ugly 40 minutes, Barnes looked back to last season. UConn, to be specific, and the skid the Huskies went on before ultimately winning a national championship.

Between December 31 and January 18 last season, Dan Hurley’s team lost five of six. 

It was six losses in eight games before UConn rallied to go 8-1 over the final nine games of the regular season. The Huskies lost to Marquette in the Big East Conference Tournament semifinal round, then won six NCAA Tournament games by an average of 20.0 points per game.

“I tell everybody,” Barnes said, “you go back 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.”

The Vols themselves went 4-6 over the final 10 games of the regular season a year ago, lost Zeigler to a torn ACL on February 28 and made it only to the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. They then went on a run to the Sweet Sixteen with a win over Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. 

“It only hurts you if you don’t learn from it,” Barnes said. “And if you don’t respond from it.”

Up Next: No. 6 Tennessee at Arkansas, Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Tennessee will have to respond at Arkansas Wednesday, when the Vols go back on the road. They’ll have to respond at home against Vanderbilt at home on Saturday, at Missouri next week and against A&M when the Aggies come to Knoxville in two weeks.  

The final two weeks of the season is arguably the toughest stretch on the schedule: Home against Auburn, at Alabama, at South Carolina and home against Kentucky.

The only response Saturday night was getting what was as much as a 22-point deficit in the second half down to 12 on three separate occasions. That’s as close as Tennessee could get.

“You look at it and can be honest with yourself individually,” Barnes said. “And we as coaches, we break down what we didn’t do a good job with. And I think we got a program that’s transparent with each other.”

Mashack’s honest assessment was that this team will be better off because of these kinds of games. 

“We’re going be an even better team in March,” Mashack said. “And we’re going to fix some things around. We’re definitely going to fine tune a lot of things. But it’s not March yet. And that’s where we’re really focused on, winning the SEC and that March Madness championship.”

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