COLLEGE STATION, Texas − Rick Barnes was a lot of things Saturday.
The Tennessee basketball was bothered by his team’s free-throw slump at Texas A&M. He certainly wasn’t happy with the overall performance. He was perplexed by his team’s defensive struggles. He also was not concerned about the Vols devolving following a 16-point loss on the road.
“It only hurts you if you don’t learn from it and if you don’t respond to it,” Barnes said.
In other words, Barnes expects a good response after the No. 6 Vols (17-6, 7-3 SEC) had a litany of issues in their 85-69 loss to Texas A&M (15-8, 6-4) at Reed Arena. He was resolute afterward: He’s focused on the long game not the immediate results after UT lost a game by double-digits for the first time this season.
Why Rick Barnes is not concerned about Tennessee basketball after Texas A&M loss
Barnes offered a reminder Saturday that there is a long way to go in the season and this is the nature of the college basketball. It won’t be perfect and it will feature some head-scratching moments, which this Texas A&M game very much was.
He used UConn as an example from last season. The Huskies lost five of six games in a midseason lull from late December to mid-January. They went on to win the national championship.
To paraphrase, Barnes knows losses are inevitable and even the best teams can go through a rough patch − even a long, rough run − before figuring it out. Teams that take the time to learn from a loss or losses can do that.
“If you look at it and be honest with yourself individually and as coaches, we (will) break down what we didn’t do a good job with,” Barnes said. “I think we’ve got a program that is transparent with each other and we will talk about that.”
Where does Tennessee basketball turn after its loss at Texas A&M?
Barnes diagnosed Tennessee’s problems against Texas A&M down to a few specific areas within the out-of-sync offense and lacking defense.
The Vols were pitiful at the free-throw line, shooting 60% to mark a season-low for the second time. The other was in loss to South Carolina on Jan. 30. Dalton Knecht missed both free-throw attempts twice, which Barnes noted is equal to a turnover.
Tennessee gave up 14 offensive rebounds, which was on par with Texas A&M’s usual offensive rebounding clip. But giving up extra possessions makes a comeback a tall order given UT fell behind fast with Texas A&M’s sudden 3-point surge. That’s two straight games where rebounding needed to be better after UT was outrebounded 40-26 against LSU on Feb. 7.
The Vols struggled to guard Texas A&M on the perimeter in one-on-one settings, which irked Barnes more than the high 3-point rate for the normally mediocre Aggies offense.
UT also needed more of a presence inside from Jonas Aidoo and Tobe Awaka. Aidoo has had dominant games in SEC play but has been less consistent of late. The Vols could count on Aidoo as one of their best three players for much of the season but he has dipped at a pivotal moment.
“We need him to finish those shots,” Barnes said. “We got to have him in there finishing shots. We need him to do that. We need Tobe to do it. We got to get something from those guys.”
Jahmai Mashack vows Tennessee basketball will be better in March
Tennessee guard Jahmai Mashack mirrored Barnes’ thinking in explaining the lack of concern for the Vols. He, like Barnes, said it is a long season. Losses to good teams on the road are simply part of life.
UT is headed into a get-right three-game stretch starting at Arkansas on Wednesday, followed by Vanderbilt at home and at Missouri. The teams are a combined 4-27 in SEC play and sit at the bottom of the conference standings.
Tennessee will see Texas A&M again in Knoxville following that run to open a tough five-game slate to finish the regular season. But Mashack is sure the Vols will be hitting a different stride by then.
“This game is not going to dictate how we play in March,” Mashack said. “We are going to be an even better team in March. We are going to fix some things around. We are definitely going to fine-tune some things. But it is not March yet. That is what we are really focused in is winning that SEC and March Madness championship.”
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.