Tennessee’s men’s basketball team needed the fast start to ensure a lethargic second half didn’t inflict too much damage.
The Volunteers led Tennessee Tech by 22 points in the second half before tanking for a long stretch and survived a final-minute scare in a 74-68 win against the Golden Eagles at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday night.
“It’s a little disappointing,” Vols guard Shembari Phillips said. “We’ve got to learn how to put 40 minutes together. We were just coming off a very tough loss to North Carolina, and I don’t know if it’s guys are getting fatigued or whatnot, but we have to make it important to us to put 40 minutes together.
“Once we’re able to do that, that’s when we’ll become a really good team and reach the caliber of a team we are capable of being.”
Tennessee (5-4) led 57-37 on a putback by Jordan Bowden with 13:07 to go and then endured a brutal stretch when it had eight turnovers and zero field goals in a 5-minute, 15-second span.
The Golden Eagles went on a 13-1 run to make it 58-50 with 7:52 left to set up a nervy ending for the Vols, who finished with more turnovers (13) than field goals (10) and assists (six) in the second half.
Tennessee Tech’s Hakeem Rogers made a 3 to make it 70-65 with 1:58 left, but in the final minute Robert Hubbs, who scored a game-high 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting, rose to block Aleksa Jugovic’s 3-point attempt and hit two free throws to ice the win.
“We were lucky to get it done down the stretch,” said Vols coach Rick Barnes, who did not hide his disappointment in his team’s second-half play.
In the team’s video session Tuesday morning, Barnes showed the Vols how Tennessee Tech (4-8) hung around after falling behind by 18 points with less than eight minutes left of Saturday’s 71-63 loss at Michigan State.
“We watched film on the Michigan State game,” Hubbs said. “(Michigan State’s) a young team, and we kind of did the same things they did and kind of let up. That’s a good team. We’ve just got to learn how to finish it out and just be better.”
Barnes lamented the poor decisions his team made and called for how many times each player says, “My bad,” after a mistake to be added to the official box score for upcoming games.
He knows the margin of error for the Vols will decrease as the competition gets tougher.
“It’s something we can learn from,” Hubbs said. “When I get back to the room, I’m going to gather the guys like I did after the North Carolina game and just have an open discussion about it and ways we can get better. That’s the only way to get better, is if you talk about it.”
Tennessee jumped out to a 10-3 lead, Phillips hit a 3 as the shot clock expired to complete a 16-3 run for a 26-9 advantage with eight minutes left and the Vols led 43-25 at halftime.
Lamonte Turner made a trio of 3-pointers within minutes of coming off the bench and finished with 16 points, while Hubbs followed up a 21-point performance at North Carolina with a 15-point opening half on 6-of-8 shooting.
The Vols shot 50 percent, recorded 11 assists with only one turnover and scored 11 points off seven turnovers by Tennessee Tech in the first half.
“I’m not thinking about that part right now,” Barnes said. “I think it shows that we’re capable. I thought our energy was good. They came out driving the ball and we adjusted. They’re a hard team (to defend) because they open up two gaps where it’s really hard to stay in front of the ball and help your teammate. We adjusted there and took care of the ball.
“I thought we let things happen within our offense,” he added, “and then we got away from it.”