The final play was a fitting way for the game between Tennessee basketball and the Auburn Tigers to end on Saturday. Everybody messed up: Auburn’s offense, the Vols’ defense and even the refs.
Trailing 46-43 with 15 seconds left, the only shot Auburn could find was a desperation three five feet behind the three-point line by Wendell Green. That should have been a gift for the Vols.
However, rather than cash in on the mess Auburn’s offense was running, Olivier Nkamhoua decided to run out and clearly foul Green on the shot. That should have been a gift for Auburn.
Luckily for Tennessee basketball, the refs didn’t call the foul, and the shot didn’t go through. Tennessee beats a top 25 team three days after getting upset on the road by the Florida Gators.
There is nothing to celebrate, though.
Even before that horrendous succession to end the game, this was a clinic of bad basketball between two teams who have Final Four head coaches in Rick Barnes and Bruce Pearl. UT was just a little less bad.
The Vols shot 2-of-21 from three. Auburn was 3-of-27. Both teams were under 30 percent from the field in general, UT going 17-of-63 and Auburn going 13-of-55.
You couldn’t even blame this on bad strategy either. UT was much better in taking high percentage shots, as they only took seven midrange jumpers while Auburn took six. That’s not as low as it needs to be for either team, but it’s better than Wednesday.
In reality, both teams just missed far too many easy buckets inside the paint. Zakai Zeigler was an abysmal 0-of-10 from the field. Santiago Vescovi was 1-of-6 from three.
Josiah-Jordan James, the only player who really showed up in this game, finished with a double-double, 15 points and 14 rebounds. However, he was 1-of-7 from three.
What’s oozing through in this performance is an issue we saw Wednesday. Tennessee basketball is capable of horrendous three-point shooting games, and when that happens, their whole offense plays awful.
That was the case for both teams in this one. Sure, both play good defense, but no championship team has an offense as bad as either team had Saturday afternoon, regardless of the defense they face.
Games like this are why college basketball can come across as a disgrace of a sport. The level of mediocrity sometimes tolerated is just mind-boggling. It doesn’t come from champions in the sport, though.
Don’t spin this as a celebration that the Vols were able to show mental toughness to fight through and win an ugly game. You can’t afford these ugly games in March. That can’t be stressed enough.
Defense and limiting turnovers, all those “fundamentals” that old-school, out-of-touch basketball fans love to tout, were still there with just nine turnovers. However, there was one major exception this time: UT went 10-of-17 from the free throw line.
That’s one big change from Wednesday. Uros Plavsic was the biggest culprit, coming off the bench to just go 0-of-3. All of a sudden, Barnes has a new concern.
If Tennessee basketball has a bad offensive outing like this in March and then struggles from the line, the Vols will lose in a blowout. There’s no way they’re going far.
One positive, to be fair, is that the offense came through when needed. Vescovi’s one three was a four-point play after a foul with under three minutes to go. Zeigler also made two clutch free throws. That doesn’t outweigh all the negatives, though.