KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Rick Barnes prodded, pushed and pulled a young and undersized Tennessee team along this season, finishing with a 16-16 mark.
“We knew there were no expectations, but then we created expectations, and we didn’t finish like we needed to,” Barnes said after the Vols bowed out of the SEC Tournament as a 59-57 second-round loser to Georgia.
Tennessee had a final shot to win, but Admiral Schofield’s 3-point attempt fell short, and Grant Williams’ putback attempt was blocked as time expired.
“They’ve given us a lot to build on, there’s no doubt,” Barnes said. “In the last three halves of basketball, we got a feel of what it does take to win at this level.”
Indeed, after suffering five losses this season after leading by double digits, Tennessee turned the tables on Alabama and treated its fans one final time.
The Vols rallied from 14 down to beat the Crimson Tide, 59-54, before an emotional crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena.
It was a season filled with moral victories, though Barnes made it clear that he expects more next season, in his third year as Tennessee’s head coach.
“I know one thing, this time next year we want to be in a position where we’re a postseason team,” Barnes said. “I’m proud of the young guys, and I think they learned a lot, but we want more.”
Tennessee’s stretch run was undone by injuries and illnesses.
The Vols started four different lineups in their final four games of the season.
“This time of year you want to have a rhythm, and you want to know what you have got,” Barnes said. “This will be a learning experience for them, and the biggest thing they have to understand is how quickly it can end.”
Postseason tournament invites go out tonight, but Tennessee’s season likely is over.
Barnes said he didn’t know and hadn’t thought about the Vols’ postseason hopes.