Everybody is going to remember the final two minutes of the game. Tennessee basketball and the Missouri Tigers were tied at 67 in the SEC Tournament Quarterfinals. Then Mizzou scored on every possession to close out the game and win 79-71.
The Tigers hit back to back threes while forcing a turnover in between. This is a team that has shown all year it can get hot at random times, and that’s exactly what it did in this one. However, that ignores a larger narrative.
On paper, Tennessee basketball did what would almost always guarantee it a win. The Vols shot 10-of-26 from three, as good as Mizzou. They only had three more turnovers, but they had five more rebounds, the difference all coming in offensive boards.
Add in them shooting 11-of-14 from the free throw line with Mizzou shooting 9-of-13, and they had every advantage. If teams don’t drastically outshoot the Vols from outside, they usually win. What cost them here, then?
It was the midrange.
Rick Barnes has never given up his commitment to the midrange despite the fact that it’s the least efficient shot in the sport. A coach straight out of the 1980s who hit his prime in the 1990s and early 2000s can’t leave that era.
Tennessee basketball took 11 midrange shots. They hit four of them. Mizzou took three midrange shots at hit two of them. The Vols hit 15 of 30 two-pointers, while Mizzou hit 20 of 31. There’s your difference.
Going 4-of-11 from three is not so bad. Doing it on two-pointers is disastrous, though, regardless of where they are on the court, which is why you shouldn’t ever take too many midrange shots.
Some people will blame Josiah-Jordan James for going ice cold. He was 1-of-7 and 0-of-3 from three. However, after shooting well on Thursday, his track record shows that was bound to happen.
Others will blame the defense, but again, Mizzou gets hot randomly. They scored 86 points in their one-point win off a last-second three against the Vols back in the regular season.
UT should have had enough to offset that. Santiago Vescovi was elite from three, going 5-of-9. Olivier Nkamhoua hit a three and finished with a double-double, 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Julian Philips proved he is pretty much healthy, as he had 10 points and eight rebounds off the bench. Tyreke Key finally emerged, scoring 16 points and going 2-of-7 from three. He was the one efficient player, as all of his shots were from three or at the rim.
Jahmai Mashack proved his continual development, as he scored 14 points. Yes, the Vols had five players in double figures and still lost. It was all due to too many midrange shots.
Whether or not you think the Vols should have cared about the SEC Tournament is one thing. That was in dispute even after their 70-55 Thursday win over the Ole Miss Rebels. It certainly doesn’t matter. The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee proved that last year.
What is clear, though, is Tennessee basketball was trying to win this game, and what cost them in the game is what will cost them in March Madness. They’ll wait and see where they go on Sunday like everybody else, but they won’t go far because of this.