KNOXVILLE – When things are not going Tennessee’s way, Rick Barnes tends to look for his two senior guards, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden, to settle things down and calm the ship.
Turner and Bowden have led a young Vols team early on this season and were expected to do the same on Saturday afternoon when the UT faced their biggest test yet, the Memphis Tigers.
However, with Bowden and Turner struggling, the No. 19 Vols (7-2) had no one to turn to, falling to in-state rival No.13 Memphis (9-1) 51-47 at Thompson-Boling Arena, breaking UT’s 31-game home winning streak.
“We had some looks that we would like to have every night,” Barnes said. “But when your three top scorers go 6-for-30, it’s tough. The one thing that I thought was really good was our defense throughout. It was really the kind of game we thought it would be. We had nine turnovers and weren’t able to take advantage early in the second half.”
Down two with 1:10 to go, the Vols called on Turner, who has been known throughout his Tennessee career to hit clutch 3-pointers in big games. However, Turner missed the three. While the Vols had two chances after, the Tigers held strong and held Tennessee without a point in the last 2:15.
Turner was 1-of-11 from the field and 0-of-5 from the 3-point line while Bowden was just as bad, going 2-of-10 from the field and 1-of-6 from three-point land.
I have confidence in them in their new roles, and they’re going to have to figure it out, too,” Barnes sadi. “As a group we’ll figure it out, but we had some execution breakdowns, too, at the end. And again, when you’re in a possession game like this, we have to be mature enough to understand that we have to make them all count. But those guys are going to need to figure that out.”
Tennessee’s freshmen tried to hold the team together early with Josiah-Jordan James scoring the first eight points of the game.
James was up for the challenge early, draining a 3-pointer and trash talking afterwards as he ran down the court.
James had a chance to blow the roof off the building early but missed a dunk that would’ve extended a Tennessee lead to 10.
While James fell off in the second half, going 4-of-11 in the game, he was still the leading scorer with 14 points as well as pulling down five rebounds. James played 36 minutes in the game, the second highest on the team.
“He’s worked really hard at shooting the ball, and I thought Josiah played his best game in terms of his confidence and his demeanor in terms of how he was playing,” Barnes said. “I thought he was good today in terms of trying to do everything he could.”
Drew Pember tried to do the same for UT, coming in and playing a valuable 10 first half minutes for Tennessee. Pember entered the game and immediately made his presence felt, attempting to dunk on two Tigers. Pember missed the dunk but was fouled and made both free throws.
Pember finished with four points and had four rebounds in 13 minutes of play.
“I was really pleased with Drew Pember, and I think Drew is going to get a chance,” Barnes said “He’s going to change it. Because he’s a guy that, the more he gets out there, he’s going to figure it out. But he gives us another ball handler and a guy that has a really good feel.”
After a slow start for both teams on offense, they combined to go 2-of-15, Tennessee tried to put the game away early. With the scored tied at five, James hit his second 3-pointer of the game. After a John Fulkerson layup and Pember free throws, James hit another three, forcing a Memphis timeout with the Vols leading 15-5.
The lead got to 17-5, but the Memphis offense woke up, hitting shot after shot, and throwing a full-court press at Tennessee that got UT out of their rhythm and gave the Tigers a one-point lead at the half.
The second half saw the lead never get above four with both teams trading bucket after bucket. With Tennessee down three and needing a bucket, John Fulkerson came alive. Fulkerson took the ball at the top of the key, spun into the lane, laid a ball off the glass and was fouled.
After missing the free throw, Fulkerson then blocked a shot and Yves Pons hit to give Tennessee the lead. Fulkerson had nine points in the game and three blocks.
we didn’t hit shots that we usually make,” Fulkerson said. “We shot 25 percent from the field and I think we took a lot of good shots. I think we could’ve gotten better shots, but a lot of the shots we took, we could’ve made and we usually make. So, I just think shots weren’t falling today.”
However, Memphis’ Alex Lomax was clutch down the stretch, hitting two key shots and assisting on an alley-oop that gave Memphis the lead. While Turner hit a layup to give Tennessee the lead back with 2:15 left, Damion Baugh ended any chances for UT with a 3-pointer in the corner.
Tennessee will be back in action on Wednesday as they travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bearcats. That game tips off at 7 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN 2.