Josiah Jordan James did his best to pinpoint the moment when No. 22 Tennessee began falling apart against Colorado on Sunday afternoon at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
“I would just say coming out of halftime,” James said after the 78-66 loss that caught the Vols flat-footed, “we talked about having a sense of urgency. We didn’t play our basketball in the first half. Shots weren’t coming, but we also didn’t get on the offensive glass like we should and then we didn’t guard them well defensively.”
Still, Tennessee led 34-32 at the break, despite going off the field at 6-26. Five of the six shots fired hit the 3-point line. Within the arc, the Vols went 1-for-9. But they got to the free-throw line 21 times, made 17 times, pulled 13 fouls and forced 15 turnovers.
None of that followed in the second half. Colorado shot 53.6 percent from the field against a deflated Tennessee defense. The Buffaloes passed the Vols 23-17, surpassing them by 14.
“I think we came straight from half-time,” James continued, “we knew we gave them a lot of confidence in the first four minutes and when you give the team confidence it’s hard to have good players with confidence hit.
“I think in the middle of the second half when they’re taking shots and we’re not taking any shots and then not getting any stops,” he said, still looking for the point where the wheels fell off.
“Probably somewhere in the second half.”
#22 Tennessee vs. FGCU, Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network+
Colorado was less than 48 hours from a stunning defeat of their own, losing as a 16-point favorite at Grambling State on Friday night. The Buffs never led and were down by 17 at one point.
Now Tennessee (1-1) will look for their own rebound and host Florida Gulf Coast (2-1) on Wednesday (7:00 p.m. ET; Streaming: SEC Network+/ESPN+) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols were impressive in the October preseason, beating Michigan State in a scrimmage behind closed doors and then running past No. 2 Gonzaga (99-80) in an exhibition game on neutral ground in Frisco, Texas.
They took care of Tennessee Tech in the regular season opener last week, recovering from a cold first half and winning at 32.
Then the Colorado game happened.
“It’s tough,” James said. “We definitely didn’t come into the (Colorado) game with the right attitude. Personally, I feel like since we had big wins against two pretty good teams last season, we thought we could go out there and do it like the coach said. That is a good lesson for us.”
Classes will come with changes. Second point guard Zakai Zeigler lost his starting job after committing two turnovers in the first two minutes against Colorado while playing “completely out of control,” as Barnes put it.
retirement home Uros Plavsic is doubtful after twisting his ankle in the loss. The 7-foot-1 tall man started in the first two games of the season.
Losing Colorado will be ‘very good’ for Tennessee.
After losing at Grambling, coach of Colorado Tad Boyle changed four of the five spots in his starting lineup for the Tennessee game.
“I mean, I have to do the same,” Barnes said, “because I’m not happy where we are.”
“Maybe I gave our boys too much leeway,” Barnes added, “in terms of thinking they’re mature enough to get ready. I’ve already told the guys that this week I felt like something was missing.”
And it must not be missing.
“If we think we’re going to show up and win when it matters most, then we’re not going to do it,” Barnes said. “If this was an NCAA tournament game and it could be something like that if you don’t shoot, can you find a way to win a game if you don’t shoot?”
The Vols couldn’t do it on Sunday. They finished the game 16-to-63 from the field.
Zeigler scored 12 points in 4-for-12 shooting. Santiago Vescovi scored 11 points in 2-for-13 shooting with four turnovers. Olivier Nkamhoua had four points and went 1-for-8. Tyreke Keywho will likely replace Zeigler as starting point guard, had 15 points but only shot 2-for-9.
James scored 15 points and had eight rebounds, three steals, two blocks, two assists and a turnover off the bench in 27 minutes, going 5-for-11 from the field and 4-for-8 from the 3-point line .
On Sunday, thanks to a spectacular defeat in the opening week, he focused on what the future might hold.
“It’s a long basketball season,” James said. “Obviously I’m disappointed and angry that we lost, but I’m also excited to see how this team will react because there are a lot of great things waiting for this team.
“But it’s not just going to be handed to us and I’m excited to see how we respond to that for the rest of the season. I think this loss will be very good for us.”