Despite a valiant second-half comeback effort, Tennessee couldn’t start its Maui Invitational experience with a win, as No. 16 Wisconsin held on to defeat the Vols, 74-62.
The Vols forced Wisconsin into 18 turnovers, but the Badgers sealed the win with perfect play down the final stretch, hitting all five of their last five shots from the field. In the win, Wisconsin was carried by its “Big Three”, seniors Bronson Koenig (21 points) and Nigel Hayes (17 points) and sophomore big man Ethan Happ (16 points).
In a game the Vols were never really given a chance in, Rick Barnes and his team had a respectable performance, even leading early in the second half. Sophomore guard Shembari Phillips led Tennessee with 16 points, including a trio of three-pointers. Freshman Jordan Bone, who had lead the team in scoring through the first two games of the season, was sidelined for much of the game due to a foot injury.
Wisconsin dominated early, jumping off to a 12-0 start and holding a lead as big as 17 points just 10 minutes in. But the Vols responded by outscoring Wisconsin 23-14 to go into halftime down just eight points. Junior guard Detrick Mostella kept the Vols within striking distance with 12 first half points.
When play resumed, the Vols came out firing on all cylinders, picking up their first and only lead of the game after a 10-0 run.
“I thought they showed some terrific mental toughness fighting back into it and against an experienced team,” Barnes said after the game. “But yet we’ve got to learn how to win coming down the stretch.”
The Vols’ control of the game was short-lived, as Wisconsin regained the lead with 10:34 left and put its foot on the gas, maintaining the lead until the final buzzer.
“There were too many guys that put their head down and tried to do it themselves,” Barnes said.
Tennessee only tallied 10 assists as a team, proving once again that effectively moving the ball will be a struggle for the young team. Combine that with a 40 percent shooting day from the field, and knocking off a top-25 opponent is awfully tough.
After the loss, the Vols will face No. 13 Oregon in the loser’s bracket on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. ET.
Edited by Nathan Odom
Featured image by Parker Eidson, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics