A 30-point loss in the NCAA Tournament is bad enough.
But for Tennessee (19-15), the 75-45 loss to Michigan (21-13) Friday afternoon in Charlotte, N.C., in the second round of the NCAA Tournament was even worse given the uncertain future of coach Bruce Pearl.
The game came on the heels of comments UT men's athletic director Mike Hamilton made earlier in the week to Knoxville radio station WMNL regarding Pearl's future with the school. Hamilton said Pearl's fate would be evaluated after the season, creating a controversy the Vols said didn't affect the team's performance.
"I don't think it had anything to do with us on the court, but of course it was a distraction off the court and whatnot," senior point guard Melvin Goins said. "But us players, we have to step up and take the responsibility on the court, and we didn't come to play today."
"This was a very difficult loss," Pearl said. "Give Michigan credit, they played exceptionally, particularly in the second half, and we obviously unraveled."
The margin of victory was the largest ever in an 8-9 game, and the Wolverines became the first team to win an NCAA Tournament game without making a free throw.
"This game today was not indicative of our season, in the sense that even when we were struggling down the stretch, we were right there in virtually every game," Pearl said.
The Vols were in the game in the first half, leading 23-17 at the 7:14 mark after a Scotty Hopson free throw. The junior guard didn't score for the remainder of the game and finished with a season-low four points.
Freshman All-American forward Tobias Harris dominated in the paint early, scoring UT's first eight points. He finished the first half with 19 points, but Michigan's zone defense held Harris scoreless in the second half.
"First half, I was getting the ball in my positions and just making plays," Harris said. "The second half they just doubled down in the post."
Michigan closed out the first half on a 16-6 run to take a 33-29 lead into the locker room.
"They made a few energy plays — they got a few 50-50 balls, they got a couple of offensive rebounds, they took a couple of balls away from us — and we could've extended that lead, I thought," Pearl said. "They came down and knocked a couple of shots down they had missed earlier.
"And then of course in the second half, they just drilled us."
Michigan shot 64.3 percent (18-of-28) from the field in the second half, including going 6-of-11 from three-point range.
"We just didn't play with any heart out there," Harris said. "Michigan came out and made shots, and we just did a terrible job of trying to cover them. On the offensive end, we rushed too many shots and basically just quit."
The Wolverines outscored the Vols 42-16 in the second half, holding UT to just six field goals over the final 20 minutes.
"Specifically in the game today, it was hard to score in the second half, and we could never get ourselves in any kind of a flow," Pearl said.
The loss ends a difficult season for the Vols, on and off the court. For the first time in his tenure at UT, Pearl's squad failed to win 20 games.
"Man, it was tough," Goins said. "A tough season, up and downs, a lot of adversity we had to face. Just tough man. It was a real tough season."