In its first home opener loss since a 1991 defeat to East Tennessee State, Tennessee fell to Chattanooga 82-69 in Thompson-Boling Arena Friday night.
The Vols struggled from the field, only hitting 19 shots and shooting just 33 percent. Freshman point guard Jordan Bone was the lone bright spot, pouring in 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting and a perfect 4-for-4 night from the free-throw line.
“I don’t think we gave ourselves a chance,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said after the game. “We turned down some shots, and that’s what we’ve been harping on.”
Barnes’ main concern wasn’t that shots weren’t falling, but that his team wasn’t taking the right ones. Tennessee hit just one of its 16 shot attempts from three-point range.
“We’re better than that,” Barnes said. “But you can live with missing shots as long as we take the shots we want.”
Shooting woes weren’t the only concern for Tennessee, as the offense as a whole was sloppy. The Vols turned the ball over 18 times and managed just four assists as a team.
The Mocs, led by four returning starters and second-year head coach Matt McCall, are the reigning Southern Conference champions of both the regular season and the conference tournament. Chattanooga was led by its senior forwards, Justin Tuoyo and Tre’ McLean. Both big men registered double-doubles and led the team in scoring with 22 and 21 points, respectively.
“It was a great win for our basketball team,” McCall said. The young coach added that he has had both good and bad moments in the visiting locker room as a former Florida assistant, but that this one was definitely good.
After sweeping the Southern Conference last season, the Mocs made an appearance in the NCAA tournament as a No. 12 seed, but fell to Indiana in the Round of 64.
“We’re not recreating last year,” said McCall. “This is a new season with new challenges.”
Visiting Thompson-Boling Arena, Chattanooga played fast with game-changing intensity. In the second half alone, the Mocs threw down seven dunks, many to which belonged to Justin Tuoyo.
“We talk a lot about being the most desperate team, ” McCall said. “We want to make each game important.”
Tennessee managed to improve off its weak rebounding performance in its exhibition game against Slippery Rock, winning the rebounding battle 42-36, but failed to protect the paint when it came to scoring.
The Mocs capitalized on a multitude of opportunities at the rim by scoring over half of their total points in the paint.
“We did a better job on the boards,” Barnes said. “But our perimeter defense got beat.”
Barnes, clearly disappointed in his team’s play against Chattanooga, is looking forward to the challenging non-conference schedule during the next two months. The Mocs are only the first of many tough opponents that lie ahead.
“I don’t think we’ll be favored in a single game in Maui,” Barnes said. “And that’s great.”
The Vols host Appalachian State at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday before shipping out to Hawaii for the rest of the Maui Invitational.
Edited by Nathan Odom
Featured image by Craig Bisacre, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics
Dalton, a firm believer that sporting events are best spent on Twitter, is an Assistant Sports Editor for TNJN and a sophomore studying Journalism at the University of Tennessee. Two of his favorite pastimes include beating his roommates at 2k and remaining in awe of the amount of stories fellow editor David Bradford writes. Twitter: @dk_writes