Playing in front of the most raucous crowd Thompson-Boling Arena has seen this season and sporting a 14-point halftime lead, Tennessee had all the makings of another inspiring sweep to continue the season's longest winning streak.
Good thing Vol fans are getting used to gut punches.
Texas A&M's Antwan Space hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 4.4 seconds left to lift the Aggies to a 57-56 comeback win over the Vols in Tennessee's SEC home opener.
For the third time in Cuonzo Martin's basketball coaching career at UT, the Vols failed to start out the conference slate 2-0.
"Tough loss," Martin said after the game. "Give A&M credit. They made the big shot down the stretch to win the ball game. It was a tough shot. But a big shot."
Tennessee senior guard Jordan McRae had a chance to win the game on a buzzer-beating attempt from about 35 feet out. It came up short.
Texas A&M's bench jubilantly raced onto center court in celebration of the improbable win.
The Vols, once again, were left heartbroken.
"As a coach, it's hard to say a lot of things in a situation like that," Martin said, reminiscing on the locker room mood. "The pain will take care of that."
Two Antonio Barton free throws with 36.9 remaining put UT up 56-52 and sent a handful of fans heading toward the exits. Then, Aggies guard Alex Caruso quickly scored to make it 56-54 in the blink of an eye.
UT inbounded the ball to McRae, who was called for an offensive foul while trying to advance the ball past half-court.
Caruso was fouled on the resulting possession and went to the line with a chance to pull the Aggies even with 17 seconds left, but he missed both free throws. Jeronne Maymon pulled down the board and was immediately fouled.
Maymon failed to ice the game, missing both of his free throws. The Aggies pushed forward in the final seconds, and Space drilled the game-winner.
"It's very hard," Maymon said about missing both free throws in the final seconds. "It's very upsetting. But you have to get back in the gym and work on it."
In incredibly rare fashion, the Vols' three leading scorers — McRae, Maymon and Jarnell Stokes — were all held in single digits. Stokes had just six points and five rebounds, while McRae had nine points as both stars struggled through foul trouble.
Maymon admitted how tough it is for his team to win when the leaders aren't putting the ball in the basket.
"We look for Jordan to really lead the way with [scoring], and me and Stokes come up with the rear," Maymon said. "It was just an off night."
Perhaps the most staggering aspect of Saturday's Vol loss was the way the game flowed early on. UT was dominant in the first half, entering the locker room with a 32-18 halftime lead.
At that point, Antonio Barton said, the Vols just let up off the gas pedal and allowed the Aggies to claw back into it.
"I feel that we did [lack intensity in the second half], a lot," Barton said. "Going from the first to the second half, we were a little bit too happy. We got settled and they started making shots everywhere.
"We tried to fight it at the end, but it was too late."
The Aggies were held without a field goal for a more than 10-minute stretch, failing to make a shot from 9:34 of the first half until hitting a 3-pointer less than a minute into the second half.
Things changed on a dime after that. The Aggies came off a 25 percent first half performance to go 14-for-26 (including 6-for-10 from deep) in the second half.
The Vols went just 8-for-20 in the final period and 1-for-7 from downtown. The missed opportunities — on both ends of the floor — were countless.
"That's probably the worst thing about taking this L," Maymon said. "We had plenty of opportunities to keep them at an arm's distance."
Three-point shooting hasn't been a strong point for the Aggies this season — they rank 11th in the SEC even after going 8-for-15 from deep on Saturday. But led by five threes from Jamal Jones, who had 20 of his 23 points in the second half, A&M was hot from the outside against the Vols.
"They weren't a good 3-point shooting team coming in," Maymon said, "but they just made shots. When players get their head up, it changes the complexion of the game."
The Vols will regroup on Monday to prepare for Wednesday's home contest at 7 p.m. with Auburn as UT looks to avoid another ugly, January conference loss.
"It's a tough, painful loss," Martin said. "It will burn a little bit, but you have to bounce back from it and be ready to go on Monday."