Needing one basket for victory, Tennessee whiffed on its final five possessions and suffered a 37-36 loss to No. 20 Georgetown Friday night in the SEC/Big East Challenge at Washington, D.C.
The 73 points was the lowest two-team total in a Tennessee game since the Vols beat Temple 11-6 on Dec. 15, 1973. The 37 points by Georgetown was the lowest opponent total since Tennessee beat Ohio Northern 40-33 on Nov. 25, 1983.
Trae Golden hit a hanging 16-footer with 4:26 left to give Tennessee a 36-35 lead but Markel Starks retaliated with a 17-footer that put the Hoyas up 37-36 with 4:10 remaining. Incredibly, neither team would score again.
Tennessee's final five possessions consisted of two Kenny Hall turnovers, a Jordan McRae turnover and three missed field-goal tries.
A turnover by Georgetown gave Tennessee the ball and a final chance to win with 22.6 seconds left. After a timeout to set up their final play, however, the best the Vols could manage was a 24-foot air ball by Skylar McBee that went out of bounds off the Hoyas. Tennessee inbounded the ball with three seconds left but McRae missed a 23-footer at the buzzer.
The Vols lost despite some outstanding work on defense and on the backboards. They limited Georgetown to 36.4 percent field-goal shooting and outrebounded the Hoyas 37-29. The problem was that Tennessee's offense was a no-show. The Big Orange connected on just 32.6 percent of its field-goal tries.
"It was just two stingy defenses," Vol point guard Trae Golden said on the post-game show. "Shots weren't falling for either team. It was just one of those nights."
Tennessee's offensive futility stemmed from a total inability to get the ball inside. Jarnell Stokes, coming off a 19-point effort Monday night against Oakland, managed only 4 this time. He got just three shots all night, making two, with one of these being a putback. Fellow post Kenny Hall got just two points. He attempted two shots, making one — a 10-foot fallaway jumper.
"I thought both teams did a good job defending — us with our man and Georgetown with their zone defense," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said on his post-game show. "I thought they used their length real well. We didn't get the ball to the middle of the zone like we wanted to consistently. Then, when we got it there, for the most part we weren't as aggressive and assertive (as usual)."
With its inside game neutralized, Tennessee resorted to firing from long range. The Vols made just 3 of 16 tries from beyond the arc, however, and that enabled Georgetown to stay with its zone defense the entire game.
"Ultimately, against a zone you've got to be able to make perimeter shots and get those post touches," Martin said. "I don't think we did a good job of that."
Golden credited the long-armed Hoyas with an excellent defensive effort.
"Everywhere I went I felt like two guys (followed)," he said. "It was just tough to really pick my spots and try to get my teammates good looks.... If we could've got the ball to Kenny and Jarnell just a couple more times I think we could've got a win."
In addition to its awful shooting from the field and the 3-point line, Tennessee struggled even when it wasn't guarded — making just 3 of 11 foul shots.
Greg Whittington, Otto Porter and Mikael Hopkins scored eight points each for Georgetown, which improves to 5-1. The Hoyas' only loss was to No. 1 Indiana in overtime.
Golden had 8 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists to lead Tennessee in each category. McBee also scored 8 points. McRae came off the bench to contribute 7 points for the Vols, now 4-2.
Tennessee returns to action Wednesday, visiting Virginia. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. with television coverage provided by ESPN3.