Photo via Tennessee Athletics
Tennessee basketball jumped out to an early lead, fell behind in the second half and fought back to make it a 40 minute game against the Aggies but the Vols came up short, losing in College Station 68-63.
Here’s three quick takeaways on Tennessee’s fourth loss in five games.
Fouling Costly For Undermanned Tennessee
Playing defense without fouling was extremely important for Tennessee against Texas A&M for a number of reasons. The most prominent was that Tennessee was undermanned again as starters Josiah-Jordan James and Julian Phillips were unable to play after going through pregame warm ups.
And foul trouble was an issue for Tennessee. Zakai Zeigler and Jonas Aidoo each picked up their third foul early in the second half. Aidoo ended up fouling out while Jahmai Mashack committed four fouls and four Vols committed three fouls.
It was just as important because of Texas A&M offensive identity. The Aggies want to get to the free throw line and they’re great at shooting them once they get there, posting the best rate in the SEC.
Tennessee wasn’t great at avoiding fouls in the first half but they weren’t horrible either, committing 10 in the first 20 minutes.
But the Vols were horrific at avoiding them in the second half. Texas A&M was in the bonus less then four minutes into the second half and took advantage, making 18-of-22 free throws in the second half. Tennessee totaled 14 fouls in the second half.
For the game, Texas A&M shot 34 free throws compared to Tennessee’s 14.
Turnovers Plague Tennessee
Texas A&M’s ball pressure is one of its defensive strengths and Tennessee did not handle it well. Zakai Zeigler played extremely poorly, turning it over four times while totaling just four assists and shooting six-of-17 from the field.
After its fast start, turnovers kept Tennessee from truly controlling the game. The Vols turned it over nine times in the first half and Texas A&M was able to turn it into 13 points.
While Zeigler was most at fault for the turnover issues, he wasn’t the only one at fault. Santiago Vescovi, who was playing under the radar, totaled five turnovers as well.
Tennessee totaled 16 turnovers for the game. Turning the ball over two more times and shooting 20 less free throws than your opponent on the road is a combination that won’t often lead to success.
Vescovi, Awaka Display Fantastic Efforts In Loss
Santiago Vescovi did not seem like someone that was going to play a basketball game 28 hours later when he watched Tennessee practice at Thompson-Boling Arena in a heavy winter coat Monday.
But the senior shooting guard decided to give it a go and even played well for Tennessee. The left-handed shooter scored 14 points on four-of-10 shooting from three-point range. The offensive success wasn’t all he did well though. Vescovi grabbed 10 rebounds including five on the offensive end and many of them coming a Tennessee turned in a second half comeback.
Doing that while playing under the weather was extremely admirable.
Tobe Awaka’s role wasn’t as large but the freshman big man was fantastic in the loss, totaling 10 points and seven rebounds. The freshman had some issues defensively against the Aggies front court but his rebounding and offense was huge boost for the Vols.
Awaka made three-of-three shots from the field and even made four-of-five free throws after struggling horribly from there in recent weeks.
Tennessee didn’t have enough players step up and play well at Texas A&M, but Vescovi and Awaka certainly weren’t to blame.
Tennessee returns home to Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday night against South Carolina. Tip-off between the Vols and Gamecocks is at 6 p.m. ET.