After offensive issues in the first half against the nation’s best defense, the No. 10 Texas Longhorns weren’t able to overcome the 12-point halftime deficit in Knoxville in an 82-71 loss to the No. 4 Tennessee Volunteers in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Tennessee forward Oliver Nkahmhoua was dominant inside, scoring a career-high 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting with eight rebounds and three assists. On the perimeter, guard Zakai Zeigler played an impressive floor game and turned in another efficient performance for Volunteers head coach Rick Barnes, scoring 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting with 10 assists.
Overall, Tennessee shot 55.6 percent from the field and out-rebounded Texas 38-23.
Marred by foul trouble, Longhorns guard Marcus Carr wasn’t a factor, scoring his 11 points after halftime and making only one of his six three-point attempts. With Carr struggling and forward Timmy Allen failing to make an impact, guard Sir’Jabari Rice came off the bench to score a team-high 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
Texas struggled on the defensive glass early in the game with Tennessee rebounding six of the first seven misses, leading to five second-chance points. The problems compounded when Carr went to the bench with two fouls before the under-12 timeout. Fortunately, the lost possessions and the lost playmaking ability didn’t result result in a significant early deficit for the Longhorns with the Volunteers leading 15-12 at the second media break.
Benching scoring helped, with 12 of the first 17 points coming from bench players, including five points apiece from Rice and guard Arterio Morris, as well as six early fast-break points.
But a 9-0 run by Tennessee create some separation for the home team as Texas missed five straight shots from the field against the nation’s best defense, forcing a timeout by Longhorns head coach Rodney Terry with 7:08 remaining in the first half as the rebounding margin remained massive.
The struggles continued for Texas with two turnovers and three missed shots as the scoreless stretch went past five minutes and finally ended after 6:14 when forward Christian Bishop made a layup following an offensive rebound.
Scoring from Rice helped keep the Horns from getting run off the court, but the lead for the Volunteers was at 12 points with 37 seconds remaining in the half when Rick Barnes used a 30-second timeout and remained there after two missed free throws by Tennessee and a missed three by Carr, who was scoreless in the first half after missing all three shot attempts.
Carr wasn’t the only starter who struggled, as the entire group produced only seven points total as Allen also went scoreless. Other than Rice, who made five of his seven shot attempts, the Longhorns were 6-of-20 from the field (30 percent).
Texas was 2-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes and was out-rebounded 21-13, with nine offensive rebounds by Tennessee producing 11 second-chance points.
Allen and Carr both scored early in the second half, but had trouble stopping Nkamhoua, whose two quick baskets allowed him to reach a game-high 20 points. But just as Carr started to heat up, he was forced out of the game thanks to his third foul as Volunteers Zigler hit two back-breaking threes to extend the lead to 15 points, the largest of the game.
So as the Texas offense started to gain some rhythm, the defense couldn’t get stops as Tennessee made eight straight shots to push the margin to 22 points. The Longhorns kept fighting, however, going on an 11-2 run as the Volunteers went nearly four minutes without a field goal, cutting the margin to 13 points at the 9:55 mark when Barnes called a timeout.
Nkamhoua broke the field-goal drought after 4:46 and Zeigler got downhill for a layup to temporarily kill the Texas momentum before guard Brock Cunningham hit a three on the other end. After Zeigler found Nkamhoua for a lob dunk, Rice hit a three and Carr hit a step-back bank shot to make it 69-58 with 5:29 remaining.
With a chance to get the lead into double digits, Bishop was called for an offensive foul in the post and then gambled on a steal, allowing a dunk by Nkamhoua, who had just drawn the charge.
And that ended that last real hope at mounting an unlikely comeback on the road.
Texas returns to Austin to face No. 17 Baylor at the Moody Center on Monday.