Alabama basketball commits 22 turnovers, loses at No. 6 Tennessee, 91-71

For the second year in a row, head coach Nate Oats said Alabama men’s basketball had a weakness exposed during its trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, losing against a top-10 ranked Volunteers squad.

While last year’s defeat sparked a turnaround and eventual run to the Sweet 16, Saturday’s defeat offered a reminder of Alabama’s struggles this season. UA committed a season-high 22 turnovers and attempted a conference-low 21 tries from 3-point range. The 91-71 score could’ve been worse as it ended a six-game winning streak. Oats had a blunt assessment postgame.

“That was as dominating a performance somebody’s put on us in a long time around here. They’re good. They’re tough. They’re physical. We weren’t ready for it,” Oats said. ” ….We gotta go back and figure out how to get a little tough, take care of the ball a little better.”

“We’ll see if some guys show some character and come back a little ready to play a little tougher brand of basketball.”

Alabama (12-6, 4-1) had responded following three-straight ranked losses last month. It learned its defense would need to improve and a secondary guard would need to help Mark Sears (22 points while battling an ankle injury). Both lessons were clear against the 6th-ranked Volunteers (14-4, 4-1).

While the game was close through the under-16 media timeout, Tennessee continued to score, and Alabama turned sloppy. Vols star Dalton Knecht led the team with 25 points in 36 minutes, with Oats projecting he would’ve had more if the Tide kept it close in the second half.

At intermission, Alabama trailed by 13. With five minutes left, a Santiago Vescovi 3-pointer gave the Vols a 27-point lead.

“We didn’t have an issue (with turnovers before Saturday),” Oats said. ” …Shoot, Mark is our primary ballhandler and he had seven tonight. He’s got to be better. … We got to get him to get guys out when he’s facing pressure, have outlets.”

Sears was the only Alabama player to score double-digit points. Grant Nelson played just 17 minutes, earning his fourth foul with just under 19 minutes left. According to Oats, Tennessee rarely got “in rotation” or in a phase of chasing the ball defensively.

A Tide attack designed to get open looks couldn’t and the shot creation wasn’t there. Only Sears and Aaron Estrada (eight points, five assists, three rebounds) had multiple assists. UA went 4-for-21 from range while Tennessee shot 10-of-28.

“They did a great job. Coach (Rick) Barnes had a good game plan,” Oats said. “Best job anybody’s done us defensively.”

Alabama is now tied with the Vols behind Auburn in the SEC West standings. The Iron Bowl of basketball returns to Coleman Coliseum on Wed., Jan. 24 at 6:30 p.m.

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