INDIANAPOLIS — For underachieving teams, the NCAA Tournament can either be a reset button or a mirror. In Tennessee’s case, it provided a perfect reflection.
The No. 5 seeded Volunteers, who had hopes of making a Final Four run early in the season but struggled to find the right chemistry mix to the bitter end, are out of the men’s tournament after a 70-56 loss to No. 12 seed Oregon State that magnified all of their flaws.
Though this technically counts as an upset in the seeding, nobody could have watched Tennessee down the stretch and been surprised by this outcome as the Vols struggled to get good shots for most of the game and didn’t make enough of the ones they did get, shooting 33% overall and 5-of-26 from the arc as they spent most of the second half trying and failing to put pressure on Oregon State.
“I’m disappointed, just sorry we didn’t give them more competition really,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “We had no inside game. They were certainly packed back in there, daring us to make threes and we had some looks and they didn’t go down. We didn’t get much on the offensive boards the way we needed to.”
Oregon State, which would not have made it to Indianapolis if not for its surprising run to the Pac-12 tournament title last week, advances to the second round for the first time since 1982.
“We knew we had something special happening,” Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle said. “It’s the way we’ve been going at it the last couple months. There was really only one time I had to light into the guys and it was at Cal but other than that we’ve just been balling and it’s been really fun to watch and be a part of.”
This meek exit marks a massive disappointment for Tennessee, which returned a good core of veteran players and added two highly rated freshmen wings this season in Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, who were supposed to add some scoring punch, athleticism and versatility.
Instead, the Vols struggled to figure out who they were offensively. Despite a defense that was ranked No. 4 in efficiency in the Ken Pomeroy rankings, the Vols were No. 69 on offense coming into the tournament and were prone to long scoring droughts and poor shooting performances.
It didn’t help the Vols that senior forward John Fulkerson missed the game due to a facial injury and concussion he suffered during the SEC Tournament, but Barnes still expected a better performance from his team.
“We just didn’t have it, and I’m a little bit surprised to be quite honest,” Barnes said. “I’m disappointed because I thought we’d gotten by all that. The last couple weeks we’d been competing really hard defensively, but we came out and got totally out of character.”
Trailing 33-19 at the half, Tennessee played with significantly more energy and urgency in the second but couldn’t make any dent in the lead. Oregon State led by 20 with six minutes left before a Vols spurt cut it to 62-50 with fewer than four minutes to go. But Tennessee’s opportunities to cut the margin even further went by the wayside.
Oregon State shot 48 percent and shot 10-from-21 from the 3-point line. The Beavers’ big man, 7-foot-1 Roman Silva, made all eight of his field goal attempts and finished with 16 points while guard Jarod Lucas hit four 3-pointers.
“It’s not a surprise from the sense that we're playing our best basketball right now and the talent we have on this team with toughness and heart,” Tinkle said.
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