KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Rick Barnes is past moral victories in his third season as head coach at Tennessee, so leading for 38 1/2 minutes of Sunday’s 78-73 loss to North Carolina was no consolation.
In fact, it peeved Barnes that the No. 20-ranked Vols (7-2) didn’t do more to put away the No. 7-ranked Tar Heels (10-1) when they had the chance.
“People will look at that turnover at the end,” Barnes said, referring to a North Carolina backcourt trap that set up the Kenny Williams’ go-ahead 3-pointer with 32.7 seconds left.
“Those times we were up 8 or 9 points, we shouldn’t have let it get back to that situation, but we did.”
Indeed, Tennessee went cold down the stretch, making only two field goals over the final 7 1/2 minutes in allowing North Carolina to rally for the last-minute victory.
Jordan Bowden’s 3-pointer with 7:45 left gave the Vols a 64-60 lead, and it appeared Tennessee would stay as resilient as it had been to that point in front of the sold-out, orange-and-white, checker-boarded crowd.
Instead, the Vols missed their next 8 shots before Grant Williams drove for two of his team-high 15 points to give Tennessee a 70-67 lead with 1:09 left.
The Vols’ offensive reprieve was short-lived, as Tennessee’s next three possessions resulted in two turnovers and a missed jump shot, opening the door for the Tar Heels’ game-winning 7-0 run in the final minute.
“We had some great looks and had some threes that were in and out,” Barnes said. “We didn’t finish it. It will be a great learning lesson.”
Barnes also looked at the bigger picture in reviewing the stat sheet, finding other areas where the Vols faltered.
“You look at the (statistics), and it’s their 19 offensive rebounds and they score 20 points off that, and then they scored in transition,” Barnes said. “You just can’t give that up.”
More key statistics included:
• North Carolina outscored Tennessee in the paint, 40-24
• Tennessee had only 11 assists to 13 turnovers
• Lamonte Turner was 1-of-8 shooting, and Admiral Schofield was 3-of-13
“I don’t think we have to play perfect to win a game like this, (and) today we weren’t anywhere near perfect,” Barnes said. “When we had the lead, we didn’t do what we needed to keep the lead, and that was offensive execution.”
The loss snaps Tennessee’s home win streak in non-conference games at 11 and drops Barnes to 6-7 lifetime against Coach Roy Williams.
Tennessee returns to action at 9 p.m. on Wednesday at home against Furman, and then plays at Wake Forest next Saturday in its final game before the start of SEC play Dec. 30 at Arkansas.
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