The Tennessee Vols started something they couldn't finish.
They played some of their best basketball of the season in the first half of the SEC Tournament semifinal game against No. 1 Florida Saturday.
They held a seven-point lead at halftime and had things going their way with some stingy defense and effective scoring.
But when their game started unraveling late in the game, the Vols had no answers. Thus they would go on to lose by seven points, 56-49. They were held to 14 points in the second half.
They did things they never did during a six-game win streak. They lost their composure, their poise, started turning the ball over and were out-toughed by the Gators.
A needless technical foul on Jerrone Maymon could not have come at a worse time. The game was knotted at 45-all at the 4:31 mark when Maymon lost his cool and referee Pat Adams rightly teed him up.
From that point on, Florida outscored the Vols, 11-4. Game over.
“I feel like Florida made some big plays,'' said junior center Jarnell Stokes. “They have a great team. They're the number one team in the country.
“There were some calls I didn't like, but that's part of it. I'm just a player and I let the referees do their job. (Florida) played well down the stretch. Hit big free throws.''
Florida Coach Billy Donovan's team stayed the course. There was no panic in their eyes. They turned up the defensive screws, kept fighting and forced Tennessee into costly mistakes.
“I thought the second half we did a really, really good job defensively,'' said the SEC Coach of the Year. “We held them to 14 points. That was a big factor and really didn't let them get going from behind the 3-point line. … Then it just came down to a lot of loose ball plays.''
The game turned when Maymon was called for a foul and compounded the problem by protesting the call. Referee Pat Adams heard or saw something he didn't like and teed up Maymon. The foul and technical foul put Maymon out of the game with five fouls. The Vols never caught up.
“Wasn't really told anything (about) Maymon. They called a technical foul. I watched his body language. He didn't use any curse words, swear, whatever you want to call it,'' Martin said. “He didn't do any of that. Maybe his tone or maybe his approach and his body language caused him to get the technical.''
Bingo. Martin nailed it. Adams made the right call. Maymon lost his composure in crunch time.
Florida did what great teams do. Michael Frazier knocked down the two technical foul shots and Patric Young made two free throws on the personal foul call.
For the Vols sake, I would hope they learned a valuable lesson in the loss. I don't think this outcome keeps them out of the NCAA Tournament, and Donovan agrees.
Donovan said the Vols are capable of making some noise in the Big Dance.
“A lot of teams will be surprised at just how great of a rebounder Maymon and Stokes are, just how good they are on the glass,'' Donovan said.
“They have got everything to really go far, in my opinion. They have perimeter shooting, with (Antonio) Barton, (Jerald) McRae, (Josh) Richardson. Even when they come off the bench, they have got shooting. … Stokes gives them a low profile scoring presence. Maymon is not the same kind of scorer, but knows how to play. He's smart. He's physical. They are going to be for (an opponent), a very difficult team in the NCAA Tournament.''
It will be all about matchups in the NCAA Tournament. It's all up to the Vols as to how deep they go in the brackets.
Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.