The second-half malady that infected Tennessee's football team last fall must be communicable. The Vol basketball team seems to have caught it, too.
Four days after being outscored 44-33 in the second half of a 74-70 loss to Austin Peay, the Big Orange was outscored 38-28 Wednesday night in the second half of a 71-65 loss at College of Charleston. The loss, Tennessee's fourth in a row, drops its record to 3-6. The Cougars improve to 8-1.
As happened in Game 8 against Austin Peay, the Vols sealed their own doom by playing slipshod defense in the second half. After allowing the Governors to shoot 72.7 percent (16 of 22) over the final 20 minutes on Saturday, the Vols were almost as generous Wednesday night, allowing the Cougars to drain 65.2 percent (15 of 23) after the break.
"The biggest key is getting those stops in the second half when it (defensive play) goes away from our bench," Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin said on the post-game show. "Guys individually need to hold each other accountable but also (stress) communication — carrying out their assignments in order for those guys to be successful."
Offensively, Tennessee seemed lost when College of Charleston went to a zone defense in the second half. Up 47-43 with 14:03 remaining, the Vols were outscored 20-2 over the next eight minutes as the Cougars turned the four-point deficit into a 63-49 lead with 5:58 to go. Tennessee appeared tentative during that stretch, launching a bunch of 3-pointers and committing a rash of costly turnovers against a relatively passive zone.
"I thought our guys were stagnant against that zone," Martin said. "We were very hesitant, as opposed to attacking off the dribble and moving the ball.... I'm not sure why those guys were hesitant because normally against a zone those guys really like it, especially the 3-point shooters."
Three 3-point baskets by Jordan McRae and one by Skylar McBee helped fuel a 16-5 spurt that narrowed the gap to 68-65. McRae was called for a charge with 43.9 seconds left, however, nullifying a basket that could've trimmed the deficit to 69-67. Charleston's Andrew Lawrence sank a couple of free throws at this point, then intercepted an errant pass by Tennessee's Trae Golden to close the deal.
McRae finished 6 of 12 from the field and 4 of 8 from 3 en route to a team-high 19 points. Dwight Miller came off the bench to chip in 13 points, all in the first half. Golden's struggles at the point continued. He recorded 9 points and 5 assists but also committed 5 turnovers.
Greeneville native Antwaine Wiggins hit 10 of 12 shots and led Charleston with 24 points. The Cougars shot 49.0 percent (25 of 51) from the field, including 46.7 percent (7 of 15) from beyond the arc. Tennessee hit 45.6 percent (26 of 57) from the field but just 31.0 percent (9 of 29) from 3. The Vols committed 10 second-half turnovers and finished with 16 for the night.
Tennessee again failed to exploit superior size and quickness on the inside as 6-foot-7, 255-pound Jeronne Maymon managed 9 points (4 for 6 from the field, 1 for 2 from the foul line) and 6-foot-9 Kenny Hall added just 2 points (1 for 1 from the field).
"Against the zone we have to do a better job of getting the ball inside," Martin said. "We didn't look inside."
Because the Vols settled for outside shots rather than attacking the basket, they shot just six free throws all night — zero after intermission.
"That just goes to show we were not getting the ball inside," Martin said. "And, more importantly, not going off the dribble and getting the ball inside."