By Matthew Fairburn
SEC Tournament bracket (PDF)
Tennessee wanted Saturday’s game more than Missouri did, and the Volunteers played like it.
A rushed 3-point attempt from Phil Pressey sealed Missouri’s fate, but the 64-62 Tennessee win was a product of the Volunteers’ hard work.
The Tigers came into the game No. 2 in the nation in rebounding, averaging 41.4 boards per game, but afforded the Volunteers a 45-32 edge in that department. Tennessee (19-11 overall, 11-7 in conference play) outworked Missouri (22-9, 11-7) on the glass and found open looks in the second half while Missouri struggled to fight through ball screens.
With Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers in early foul trouble, no Tiger managed more than six rebounds in the game.
The loss overshadowed another strong performance for Bowers, though. He put up a game-high 20 points, marking the third consecutive game Bowers has hit the 20 point mark. Bowers also provided the highlight of the afternoon, throwing down a two-handed dunk over Jarnell Stokes, sending the Tennessee forward sprawling to the ground.
Pressey was the only other Tiger in double figures in the loss, as he recorded 10 points and had nine assists, but also turned the ball over a team-high three times.
Missouri led 50-42 with just over 10 minutes to play in the game before Tennessee ripped off a 16-3 run to take control heading into the final minutes.
Pressey took the ball up court for the Tigers with just under 30-seconds to play and immediately fired a 3-pointer that wasn’t close to falling and elicited a furious reaction from coach Frank Haith. Two Tennessee free throws made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Earnest Ross irrelevant to the outcome of the game.
The loss pushes the Tigers from the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament to the No. 6 seed. Instead of earning a top four seed and a double bye in the tournament, the Tigers will have to play an extra game to advance to the quarterfinals. Tennessee moves to the No. 5 seed and adds another quality win to its resume for the NCAA Tournament.
The Texas A&M and Auburn will face off in the first round of the SEC Tournament, and the winner will play Missouri in round two. Regardless of the opponent, Missouri’s next game is scheduled for Thursday, March 14 at 9 p.m. in Nashville, Tenn.