By Justin Clemmer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Volunteers were defeated by the Missouri Tigers this evening in a down to the wire 79-71 loss, knocking them out of the SEC Tournament. The Tigers will move on and play Alabama in the semi-finals, while Tennessee awaits to see where they fall on selection Sunday.
The Vols held a three point lead at halftime after a Jahmai Mashack sunk a three as the buzzer sounded. Both teams were hot coming out of halftime, but once crunch time came, Tennessee started to really miss the injured Zakai Ziegler.
Ziegler was Tennessee’s best primary ball-stopper and primary-ball handler.
“We’ve played the entire year with Zakai Ziegler, that’s where he controls the game,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes about the final minutes of the game.
The Tigers scored 49 points in the half, and in the final 16 minutes of the game, they outscored Tennessee by 16. Without Ziegler’s services, the Vols couldn’t answer when the game got tight.
Missouri’s seniors D’Moi Hodge and Kobe Brown combined for 50 points against a great Tennessee defense. Seventeen of Hodge’s 26 points came in the 2nd half.
The Vols were applying a lot of pressure defensively early on, making it tough to make even the simplest of passes. Missouri was forced to play a lot of one-on-one and as the game went on, they got extremely comfortable.
Missouri coach Dennis Gates has transformed the program from 21 losses to 24 wins in just his first year.
As for Tennessee, their lack of success in the clutch in March has unfortunately been a recent trend.
On Sunday, the Vols will see what seed they are and who their next opponent will be. It is speculated that they will fall in the three to four seed range and end up playing in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Until then, Zakai Ziegler is not coming back and Tennessee must figure out a better scheme for late game situations.