Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics
Santiago Vescovi hit two free throws with seven seconds to play, giving Tennessee a three-point lead. The senior looked like he put his late game mistakes against Vanderbilt away to redeem himself. Only there was one more trip to the foul line coming.
Tennessee intentionally fouled and after Missouri went one-of-two at the line, Vescovi went to the line with 4.7 seconds to play and a chance to ice the game with two made free throws.
Vescovi missed the first and a lane violation to Tobe Awaka set Missouri up for a DeAndre Gholston 35-foot game winner as Missouri lost its second straight game at the buzzer.
“We all hurt for Santi (Vescovi). He’s hurting,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “I hurt for him because he knows he had a chance, two games in a row, to put a game on ice. But he’s won a lot of games for us. I hate it for him. I do, because where we are today and where we’ve been, he’s had a lot to do with it.”
The senior shooting guard’s critical missed free throw came just days after he missed the front end of the one-and-one and then broke down defensively on the final possession of the game against Vanderbilt.
It’s a trying week for Tennessee basketball and Vescovi, the Vols hadn’t lost a game at the buzzer in years. Tennessee’s last game losing shot came in the 2018 NCAA Tournament against Loyola Chicago and even that wasn’t a true buzzer beater.
More From RTI: Everything Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee Lost Against Missouri
Barnes said some version of “feeling” for Vescovi post game three times while his teammates also went to bat for him during postgame interviews.
“We don’t get into this game without Santi, at all. We have no chance. No shot,” sophomore Jahmai Mashack said. “Just his communication off the court which even fans don’t see. We don’t get to this game without him. The way he was shooting the ball, the way he was driving the ball, the way he kept us in the game— I can(‘t) care less about the free throw, man.
“Even the free throws before that he hit, you know? I can care less about the free throws and I told him that and made that known to the whole team. I think we’re all on the same page. Of course, Santi is a competitor. He’s thinking about it but we know we have no chance of being in this game without him. He knows that. We know that as a team.”
Vescovi entered the week struggling offensively, but to Mashack’s point, the shooting guard found his stroke this week. The former First Team All-SEC selection totaled 30 points on the week, combining to shoot eight-of-17 from beyond the arc.
The senior leader was integral in Tennessee’s second half comeback, scoring 13 points and making three-of-six triples. One of those triples gave the Vols a four-point lead with 2:30 to play after Zakai Zeigler fouled out.
“We’re all very confident in Santi. It’s not just that,” senior guard Tyreke Key said. “There are multiple things that played into how the game ended like that. Tonight is not on Santi at all tonight. Everyone in the locker room, coaches, everyone is extremely confident in him.”
While Vescovi’s missed free throw was critical, Tennessee did make plenty of other mistakes. Awaka committed the lane violation on the second free throw and shot one-of-five at the free throw line. Tennessee turned it over 10 times leading to 19 Missouri points.
The schedule doesn’t get an easier as Tennessee looks to put a frustrating week in the rearview. Tennessee hosts Alabama Wednesday before traveling to Kentucky to face the Wildcats Saturday.