The team that Tennessee was pegged to be in preseason projections finally showed up Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena. Unfortunately for the Vols, the team Austin Peay was pegged to be finally showed up, too.
Playing like the 11th-best team in the 12-team Southeastern Conference, the Vols suffered a 74-70 home loss to the Governors, who gave a performance befitting the preseason favorite in the 11-team Ohio Valley Conference.
The obvious question: How did Tennessee lose on its home floor to a mid-major team that brought a 1-9 record into the game?
The blame game starts on defense. Tennessee allowed the Governors to shoot 72.7 percent (16 of 22) in the second half and 59.1 percent for the game. This came just one week after the Vols limited No. 17 Pittsburgh to 42.2 percent shooting on the same floor.
Junior center Kenny Hall, who posted 12 points and 10 rebounds, said it best. After mentioning a number of factors that may have contributed to the loss, he sighed and concluded: "It all boils down to defense."
Junior forward Jeronne Maymon, who hit 8 of 10 shots and led Tennessee with 18 points, went even further.
"If we hang our hat on defense," he said, "why didn't we show it tonight? That's a question that's still up in the air."
Another question that's still up in the air: What's going on at point guard? Sophomore starter Trae Golden was 1 of 9 from the field with three turnovers in 30 minutes. Freshman backup Wes Washpun provided no relief, going 0 for 3 from the field with two turnovers in 10 relief minutes. As a tandem, they were 1 of 12 from the field with 5 assists and 5 turnovers.
With the point guards playing so poorly, it isn't surprising that Tennessee's offense was unproductive. Although Maymon and Hall combined for 30 points, they got 13 of those on putbacks that required no help from teammates. The Vols shot horribly from 3-point range (5 of 19 ...26.3 percent) and committed a whopping 18 turnovers. Moreover, they were so tentative in the final minutes that they were whistled for a shot-clock violation while leading 70-69 with 1:21 remaining.
As if playing erratically on offense and defense weren't enough, Tennessee unraveled in the clutch. Leading 64-53 with 6:27 left, it was outscored 21-6 down the stretch. Jordan McRae was the only Vol to make a field goal in the game's final 6:00. He made two.
McRae and backup Skylar McBee were among the few bright spots for the Vols. McRae hit 7 of 14 shots en route to a 14-point, 3-assist, 3-steal outing. McBee came off the bench to hit 3 of 6 shots from 3-point range. The rest of the team was 2 of 13.
Head coach Cuonzo Martin blamed Tennessee's offensive woes on "being careless with the ball," adding: "If you look at some of those passes, those were things I don't even see in practice."
Ultimately, the teamwork on offense and diligence on defense that characterized the Vols' first seven games was missing in Game 8.
"Hopefully, this is a wakeup call for them," Martin said. "We're not the caliber of team that we have the luxury of going out there and playing one-on-one individual basketball. We have to be a team on both ends of the floor."
The Vols were not a team on either end of the floor Saturday, which is why they stand 3-5 after losing at home to an Austin Peay squad that improves to 2-9. Josh Terry scored 20 points and Tyshwan Edmondson 19 for the Governors.
In addition to leading the Vols in scoring, Maymon led in post-game candor. Asked if the loss might provide added motivation, he replied: "Motivation? We got enough motivation with how people are doubting us and things like that. Right now we're making a good point (for the critics)."
After admitting that the Vols "played lackadaisical" against the lightly regarded Governors, Maymon dismissed the suggestion that Tennessee's one-week layoff due to final exams was a hindrance.
"If anything, it should have helped us get better, get more focused on our assignments and what we had to do to win the game," he said. "I wouldn't think that caused us to lose it."
Hall was refreshingly candid, too, when asked about the mood in the post-game locker room.
"Not happy," he said, flashing a pained grin. "We let one get away from us."