When the dust settled and the Tennessee Volunteers missed out on an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, head coach Cuonzo Martin knew it'd be tough to motivate his team for the NIT.
His prediction was proved right Wednesday.
In front of 4,468 fans at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Vols season was drawn to an end by the Mercer Bears, 75-57, in the first round of the NIT.
A reflective Martin wasn't shy about the fact that his players were affected from the bad news that came on Selection Sunday.
"It's emotionally taxing, you feel like you're right there, more this year as opposed to last year," Martin said. "As a player you think you're right there, and as a coach you think you're right there, and it didn't happen."
"When it doesn't happen, it does take a lot out of you as a player in the next game."
The loss marks the end to the Vols season, as they finish with a 20-13 record. Their finish was a mirror image of last year's: a home loss in the NIT.
Despite being out-rebounded 38-24, Mercer shot over 50 percent and was on top of Tennessee virtually all game.
"I thought Mercer did a good job playing with energy and playing together, hats off to those guys," Martin said. "They made shots when they needed to make them and they got key stops when they needed to make them."
Though the season is over, Martin wasn't done trying to find what his team needed to succeed next year.
"We have to take better pride individually in defending guys one-on-one," Martin said. "There has to be a passion to defend that way."
Jarnell Stokes notched his 16th and final double-double on the year with 14 points and 13 boards, 12 of which were on the offensive glass. That mark of double-doubles is the most at UT since Bernard King had 19 in 1976-77.
Stokes also weighed in about the negative effect from the weekend's news.
"We were a little discouraged about not getting in [to the NCAA Tournament], but we lost to a good opponent. I thought they did a good job controlling the offense and setting the tempo," Stokes said.
"At the end of the day they did a good job on both ends and that's why we lost the game."
Trae Golden scored 20 points for the Vols, but didn't dish one assist and missed six three-pointers on the night, contributing to a 7-for-24 team performance from long range.
UT first team All-SEC guard Jordan McRae struggled on the offensive end for the second straight game Wednesday, putting up seven points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field. This performance comes after a hot streak to end the season when McRae was among the nation's best.
The loss brings more than an end to the season for some players. Skylar McBee, Kenny Hall, Rob Murphy and Dwight Miller have played their last game in the Orange and White after a final performance in front of an arena that was filled more than four times over in their final game against Missouri.
McBee finished with three points on 1-for-3 shooting in 29 minutes, while Hall played just seven minutes and scored two points.
"They played this game like it was the end of their lives," Stokes said. "They're a good opponent, and I don't feel like we played as hard as we needed to, to win the game against a team like this."
Now, Vol fans can turn their heads toward 2013-14 and the new team it'll bring. Tennessee will add consensus top-15 signee Robert Hubbs, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, to the team as well as return redshirt senior Jeronne Maymon, who was the team's best player heading into this season.
Combined with Golden, Stokes, McRae and Josh Richardson, the Vols should have a solid starting lineup along with bench players like Armani Moore, Quinton Chievous, Brandon Lopez, Yemi Makanjuola and more.
- Thanks for following our UT hoops coverage this season. We'll be hitting you with forward-looking pieces on the Vols' offseason and non-stop coverage over the happenings of Cuonzo Martin's squad.