JOE BIDDLE: Vols a tick off

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jordan Bowden_493481

Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22) drives past Tennessee’s Jordan Bowden (23) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball championship game at the Southeastern Conference tournament Sunday, March 11, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

There are no excuses. Either team could have won the SEC Tournament title.

Tennessee won its last SEC Tournament in 1979.

None of the players on their roster Sunday knew anything about how long it had been. I seriously doubt any of them would know who Reggie Johnson, Gary Carter or Dale Ellis was.

It doesn’t matter. Sunday’s team came close to upsetting Kentucky. Close doesn’t count when it comes to playing Kentucky.

As fast as the Vols got out of the block when they went on to beat Arkansas Saturday and earn a chance to capture the championship, the opposite happened against Kentucky.

What a difference a day was, although they did manage to take the lead on occasions.

In the end the Wildcats won their 14th consecutive SEC Tournament title when they defeated the Vols, 77-72.

“We started and dug ourselves a hole weren’t some shots,’’ Vols Coach Rick Barnes said. “Obviously, they were making some shots. We just weren’t locked in. We got back in the game, had a chance. We took the lead. Then we had a couple of ill-advised possessions on the offensive end.’’

“It stresses every possession, there’s no doubt.’’ Barnes knows he has to get his team up for the NCAA Tournament. “It’s basketball. You win, lose, put it behind you and say, hey now we’ve got to get ready for the next game and that’s what we’ll do.’’

They weren’t prepared to see one of their top players go off the court and into the locker room for medical attention for quite some time. Admiral Schofield returned to the game and you could tell his teammates were behind him.

Schofield said the game provided an education to take a point they will have to use going forward.

“The biggest thing is you can’t any possession for granted. You’ve got to get back to work.’’

The Vols proved the media voters missed the mark in preseason voting. They voted the Vols 13th in the 14-team conference.

Barnes earned SEC Coach of the Year. Most of these players are expected to return next season.

Perhaps they will face Kentucky two or three more times.

Time will tell.

Joe Biddle is a sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at

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