Tennessee’s late game execution is what has cost them wins, not just Melvin Goins

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On Saturday, Tennessee fell to 5-5 in the SEC with a 61-60 loss to Florida, putting them three games off of the Gator’s pace with just six left to play.

Bruce Pearl has his theories as to why the teams is struggling — point guard play:

“We have to have better point guard play, so there could be some changes,” Pearl said. “Right now, it’s Melvin Goins and Trae Golden. It could have to be Skylar McBee or Josh Bone. That could be in the cards against South Carolina.”

Agree or disagree, he has a point. Goins has handed out just two assists in the past three games.

But that may not be the Vols’ biggest problem this season. Tennessee has lost their last three games, but pinning fault on Goins, who was never a great playmaker to begin with, isn’t necessarily right. (Although, after a last second loss to Florida, Pearl said that Goins didn’t run the play he called on the final possession, which is a bigger issue.)

Looking at Tennessee’s schedule, they have not been blown out all that often. In fact, there have been eight games in which Tennessee had the ball on their final possession with either a chance to tie or a chance to win the game. They’ve only won two — against Belmont and at Georgia, on a bucket that looked like an obvious over-the-back on Brian Williams.

I went back and watched the tape of all eight of Tennessee’s game-deciding possessions:

  • 12/17 – Charlotte 49, Tennessee 48: Charlotte scores with 7.4 seconds left in the game to go up one. Tennessee inbounds the ball and pushes the other way, but Cameron Tatum gets stopped just across half court. Pearl uses a timeout with 3.3 seconds left. The play they run on the inbounds is Tatum hits Williams a good 30 feet from the basket. He then runs off Williams, who hands the ball to Tatum for a 35 footer at the buzzer and hits nothing but back board.
  • 12/21 – USC 65, Tennessee 64: Maurice Jones misses a tough runner with 12 seconds left on the clock. Pearl doesn’t want to use a timeout, so Melvin Goins pushes the other way. He gives it back to Cam Tatum who is trapped and forced to call a timeout just over half court with 3.5 seconds left. The play that is called is for Tobias Harris, who sets a flare screen and cuts to the top of the key. The defender doesn’t bite, which forces Harris to catch the ball 40 feet from the basket. He takes to hard, right-handed dribbles and misses a pull-up three from 25 feet on the right wing off the back iron.
  • 12/23 – Tennessee 66, Belmont 65: Scotty Hopson gets isolated on the right wing 25 feet from the rim. He catches and immediately drives right. He beats his man with two dribbles and gets all the way to the rim for a finger roll with 5.7 seconds left. Tennessee gets a stop and holds on for the win.
  • 1/8 – Arkansas 68, Tennessee 65: The Vols get the ball after a missed free throw with 19 seconds left. Tony Jones (Bruce Pearl is suspended at this point) has no timeouts left, so Melvin Goins brings the ball up. He dribbles the clock out, trying to penetrate, before hitting John Fields in the paint. Fields nearly loses the ball before kicking it back out to Goins. Goins is swarmed, and as the clock is running out he hits Tobias Harris in the corner, who is wide open. But there isn’t much time left as Harris rushes a three (its questionable whether he even got it off in time) and sends an airball long.
  • 1/13 – Florida 81, Tennessee 75 OT: At the end of regulation, Tennessee has the ball with timeouts available and six more seconds on the game clock than the shot clock. Goins dribbles out the clock before hitting Hopson on the left wing. Hopson immediately has two defenders run at him, so he dumps the ball down to Brian Williams on the left block. Williams fades and shoots a baby hook, but he leaves enough space for Alex Tyus to block the shot. Florida gains control, and calls a timeout for a chance to win. Obviously, the game ended up going to overtime.
  • 1/18 – Tennessee 59, Georgia 57: Tennessee has the ball on the final possession. Hopson is isolated on the left wing. He drives middle, draws a defender, and kicks the ball out to Goins. Goins then drives middle, but has no space. Harris manages to free himself in the corner. He airballs a three, but Williams grabs the offensive rebound and puts the ball back in. Williams looks like he goes over the Georgia defenders back, but no call is made. Tennessee wins at the buzzer.
  • 2/5 – Alabama 65, Tennessee 60 OT: At the end of regulation, after forcing a turnover, Tennessee calls a timeout just over half court. The ball they design is a isolation for Harris of the left block. Skylar McBee throws the entry pass. Harris is immediately double teamed. He kicks the ball out to McBee who swings it to Goins at the top of the key. Goins takes a 23 foot, contested three off the catch, but misses. Williams misses a tip-in, and the Vols lost in overtime.
  • 2/12 – Florida 61, Tennessee 60: After Erving Walker drives and finishes a tough, left-handed layup over the Vol defense with 17 seconds left, Bruce Pearl opts against using a timeout. Instead, he calls for a high screen and roll between Goins and Harris. Goins comes off the screen, but there is no space. So he steps back and takes a contested three. He misses as time expires, and the Vols once again lost a winnable game late.

You can blame Goins if you would like, but in eight situations where Tennessee had a chance to win a game or force overtime on their final possession, they managed to get one good shot — maybe two, if you think Harris shooting a three from the corner a good shot.

Granted, some of that has to fall onto Goins’ shoulders. He’s the point guard, he’s the playmaker, and he had the ball in his hands in a number of those late game situations. But some of it falls on Pearl’s and Jones’ shoulders as well. Part of the lack of late game execution is a lack of late game coaching and poor play design.

Regardless of what you believe or who you want to blame, Tennessee’s inability to execute late in games is what has cost them this season. They could easily be 8-2 or 9-1 in the SEC right now, with two wins over the Florida Gators.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Recap: An evening full of buzzer-beaters and monster performances

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No. 5-seed Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16 with a win over No. 13-seed Buffalo, and the star of the show was the guy that’s been Kentucky’s best player for three months: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He finished with 27 points, six boards, six assists and a pair of steals on 10-for-12 shooting while making both of his threes and 5-of-7 free throws.

That’s a ridiculous line, one that makes me wonder whether or not we were premature in saying that this Kentucky team does not have a superstar that can take a game over.


  • ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga: Two days after hitting a game-winning shot against No. 13-seed UNC Greensboro, Norvell went for 28 points, 12 boards, four assists and two steals — sidenote: !!!!! — as the Zags beat No. 5-seed Ohio State.
  • ANGEL DELGADO, Seton Hall: 24 points, 23 boards, five assists, career over. Salute, sir. It’s been a pleasure.
  • KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: Evans finished with 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting to lead the Red Raiders to the Sweet 16 with a win over Florida.


You make the call here.

Was it Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beating three for No. 3-seed Michigan:

Or Clayton Custer hitting Loyola-Chicago’s second game-winner in the span of three days?:


The buzzer-beater that didn’t matter … did.

Myles Powell, with Seton Hall down 83-76, hit this running three at the buzzer. It meant that the final score was 83-79, meaning that Seton Hall covered the 4.5 points that Kansas was favored by. It also meant that the Pirates covered the second half line (Kansas -1.5) and Seton Hall’s wild last minute rally meant that this game also hit the over:

Bad beats everywhere.


No. 1-seed Kansas was +21 in the 22 minutes that Udoka Azubuike played on Saturday. They were -17 in the 18 minutes he didn’t play.

No. 1-seed Villanova shot 17-for-41 from three in an 81-58 win over Alabama to get to the Sweet 16.

Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter overwhelmed No. 7-seed Rhode Island as No. 2-seed Duke is now a Sweet 16 team.

VIDEO: Jordan Poole’s last-second three sends No. 3-seed Michigan into the Sweet 16

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For the first time in this NCAA tournament, we have a buzzer-beater.

After Devin Davis missed a pair of free throws with 3.6 seconds left, No. 3-seed Michigan went the length of the court and Jordan Poole, a freshman who was scoreless on the night, buried a three as time expired to send the Wolverines into the Sweet 16 with a 64-63 win:

When asked after the game how a freshman was able to make that shot, Michigan head coach John Beilein said he has “an overdose of swag.”

Poole’s three bailed out Michigan in what was an otherwise ugly performance.

John Beilein’s club shot 35.6 percent from the floor, 8-for-30 from three and looked stagnant and bogged down offensively for 39 minutes and 56.4 seconds before Poole saved their season.

No. 6-seed Houston got 23 points from Rob Gray, who was again sensational and certainly deserved a chance to extend his career for another game. He had 39 points in a win over No. 11 San Diego State in the opener and was the best player in the West Region for the first weekend of the tournament.

No. 3 Texas Tech moves on to Sweet 16 after topping No. 6 Florida

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Texas Tech’s defense is good enough to keep them in any game. Keenan Evans is clutch enough to do the rest.

The Red Raiders’ senior star had another superlative second half, capped by throwing a game-sealing lob with 30 seconds left, as No. 3 Texas Tech took care of business against Florida, 69-66, to make just the fourth Sweet 16 appearance in program history.

Texas Tech had to survive a final flurry by Florida after the Red Raiders turned the ball over with under 20 seconds, and the Gators got two solid looks from 3-point range that would have forced overtime but both missed the mark to preserve the Texas Tech win.

It also preserved Evans’ performance.

The all-Big 12 guard had 22 points, with 14 coming in the second half. In two NCAA tournament second-halves, Evans 11 of 14 from the field and averaging 16.5 points.

The guy is just getting it done, and maybe his best play of the game was a pass.

Clinging to a three-point lead and the clock running under 30 seconds, Evans slipped through the defense, got into the paint and flipped a pass above the rim to freshman and dunker-extrodnaire Zhaire Smith for an alley-oop that put Tech up five.

Clutch alley-oops are the best alley-oops.

Florida got 23 points from Jalen Hudson, 12 form Egor Koulechov and 11 from Chris Chiozza. The Gators, though, made just 6 of 22 (27.3 percent) from 3-point range and surrendered 13 offensive rebounds. Texas Tech’s defense tightened in the second half, holding Florida to just 33.3 percent shooting overall and 19.2 percent from beyond the arc.

That defense for Tech is the foundation of what they do. It is one of the best in the country without an obvious, exploitable weakness. They’re good at every spot.

It’s keeping offenses off-kilter that lets Evans shine. When you’ve got a player as productive and clutch as he is, a close game isn’t something to fear. It’s something to welcome as you can probably count on him to get you through it.

Evans is under-appreciated nationally thanks to playing in the Big 12 outpost of Lubbock, Kansas owning every headline in that league and the toe injury that sapped him of his productivity late in the year. His emergence now on the national stage isn’t surprising so much as it is overdue. Simply, he’s been one of the tournament’s stars, and there are still games to play for Texas Tech.

Zach Norvell, Rui Hachimura lead No. 4 Gonzaga past No. 5 Ohio State

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Gonzaga’s veteran guards were no where to be found on Saturday night.

Johnathan Williams? He spent most of the night in foul trouble, while Killian Tillie looked like a shell of the player that had made Las Vegas his playground during the WCC tournament.

Those four players — the stars of this Gonzaga team, the veteran leaders that were supposed to carry this iteration of the Zags as far as they will go — combined for just 34 points against No. 5-seed Ohio State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, but the Zags still managed to hold off the Buckeyes and advance to the Sweet 16 with a 90-84 win. They led by as many as 15 points in the first half and blew a 13-point half time lead before a late 13-0 run earned them the win.

And it is all thanks to Rui Hachimura and Zach Norvell.

Hachimura is the highlight reel. He finished with 25 points and five boards despite the fact that he shot missed six from the free throw on Saturday night, but the shots — and plays — that he made down the stretch were massive. There was the three with just under four minutes left at the end of the shot clock to push Gonzaga’s lead back to six points after they had completely blown a 13-point halftime advantage. There was the block on Ohio State star Keita Bates-Diop a couple of possessions, when it looked like he was going to score at the rim on a bucket that would have ended a Gonzaga run. He even helped break Ohio State’s press in the final minutes, as the Buckeyes were trying to rally in the final minutes.

But Norvell was the star, and it started early. The redshirt freshman from Chicago got hot early, hitting a couple of threes as the Zags jumped out to a 13-0 lead that they maintained for much of the first 20 minutes. The shot that everyone will remember, however, was a step-back three from deep in the corner with less than two minutes left on the clock that put the Zags up seven and lets the partisan Boise crowd breathe a sign of relief after a tense, strenuous second half.

And with that, the Zags were back in the Sweet 16 a season after they reached their first Final Four and national title game.

Rui Hachimura (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Frankly, I think that the way that this season has played out says more about the strength of the Gonzaga program than last year’s run to the final weekend did.

We’ve known for years just how good Gonzaga is. They were a No. 1 seed before. They’ve been the No. 1 team in the country heading into the NCAA tournament. They’ve been on the national radar for two decades. They send players to the NBA. Just because they hadn’t been able to find a way to win four games in an event as fluky and exciting as the NCAA tournament doesn’t tell me anything beyond the fact that they got unlucky a couple of times when they were good enough to do it.

As the saying goes — and as Tony Bennett, Sean Miller and Chris Mack can attest — you’re only the best to never do it until you do it, and then you’re just ‘the best’.

But this group was without two key seniors from last year’s team. They also last two players that could have been all-americans to early entry when freshman Zach Collins and junior Nigel Williams-Goss both declared for the NBA Draft.

It takes a special kind of a program to withstand an unexpected hit like that and still field a roster capable of being a top four seed and getting to the Sweet 16.

And don’t, for a second, think that they are done.

We’ve seen what this team can get out of Hachimura and Norvell.

We know what Perkins, and Melson, and Tillie and Williams are capable of.

A trip to San Antonio could be in the cards.

Some might tell you they’re the favorite to get there out of the West.

But even if they don’t, just remember what this team was able to accomplish after what they lost.

It tells you all you need to know about Gonzaga basketball.

Sister Jean the star of Loyola’s Cinderella run

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Yeah, Loyola beating Tennessee to gain a spot in the Sweet 16 is a great basketball story, but the best news about their Cinderella run is something else entirely.

America gets another week with Sister Jean.

The Ramblers’ 98-year-old team chaplain has captured the hearts of the March Madness public, with her pre-game prayers and post-game celebrations. Clayton Custer’s game-winner was fine, but Sister Jean’s been great.

Loyola, though, will now have to try to defy Sister Jean. She picked against the Ramblers in the Sweet 16 in her bracket.