Eight Games, Pt. 3: Born to Run

The Game

The game tipped off a hair after 2 PM Eastern; Ron Franklin (perhaps avoid his ESPN section on his Wikipedia if you’d like to not be grossed out) and Fran Fraschilla were on the call. The mood of the telecast is pretty much exactly what you’d expect: both announcers give credit to Tennessee for seeming a little stronger than both had expected, but they also expect a Texas rebound victory after that destruction by #2 Duke. It’s also a Saturday afternoon in mid-December when most would prefer to be at home. You can’t fault anyone in attendance or on microphone for not expecting much. They name a pair of expected impact players for each side: Aldridge and Daniel ‘Boobie’ Gibson for Texas, Watson and Lofton for Tennessee.

Major Wingate opens the scoring with a six-foot floater; LaMarcus Aldridge responds with one of his soon-to-be-patented turnaround jumpers, also from six feet. At 19:22 of the first half, the game is tied at 2 apiece. This is the final tied score of the entire game.

Things start turning slowly for Tennessee – a Dane Bradshaw three here, a Watson jumper there to get it to 7-3 – and then Tennessee proceeds to rip off 13 points in 2:11 of game time. Lofton hits a two-point jumper. Andre Patterson, one of the unsung heroes of the early Pearl years, generates an and-one with a foul on Aldridge off of a Lofton steal.

Texas fails to score on the other end. JaJuan Smith nails a three. P.J. Tucker commits an offensive foul, which is then followed 24 seconds later by another JaJuan Smith three.

Dane Bradshaw steals the ball back and that results in another Wingate bucket. Like we said, in 2:11 of game time, the score elevates from Tennessee, 10-5 to Tennessee, 23-5. Anything can happen from this point forward, but less than seven minutes into a game on the road against a top-ten opponent in the first year of a new head coach no one in Knoxville knew existed a year prior, Tennessee is leading by 18 and is hitting everything in sight. They’re generating tons of turnovers with a tricky defense that Texas is unable to break. In Game Six of the Pearl Era, Tennessee has uncorked a start unlike any seen in Knoxville in decades. We explored Tennessee’s largest win in history against a Top 25 team a couple of episodes back, but they’re on pace to get close to that against the #6 team in America.

Texas does begin to respond, but it already feels a little weakened. The best the Longhorns can do after the 23-5 Tennessee tornado is to get the deficit down to 37-22 with five minutes left in the half. If Texas were able to narrow this margin to, say, 12 or less at halftime, they could feel reasonably confident that a comeback is possible. This is Texas, after all. And yet: Tennessee just keeps coming in waves. You know it’s an amazing day at the office when Jordan Howell is hitting end-of-clock threes to push your lead to 20.

Texas trails at halftime, 48-28. If the score holds, that’s a 32-point reversal of the initial spread of Texas by 12. It would be reasonable to call this the greatest overperformance Tennessee can and will display in the course of the 24 years covered by this series. The OddsShark database only goes back to 1997, but even then, it gives us something interesting to consider. Tennessee, from February 1998 onward, has been an underdog by double digits on the road 30 times. They’ve won four of those games. (Spoiler: you’re reading about one of them.) In the other three, Tennessee’s margins of victory are one point, seven points, and five points. A 20-point lead in a game like this is breathtaking. Surely, it couldn’t hold for long.

Any fears Tennessee fans had heading into the second half were swiftly answered by C.J. Watson.

His personal 4-0 run to begin the second half gives Tennessee a 24-point lead. It doesn’t get within 15 points again until there’s three minutes left. Tennessee continues to deliver knockout blow after knockout blow. A briefly-promising 8-0 Texas run early in the second half is swiftly ended by a Tennessee 7-0 run of their own, capped with a Lofton three.

Texas’ chance to get a stop and get within 20 with about eight minutes left is eliminated by, of all things, a Stanley Asumnu dunk by way of a Ryan Childress pass. (These things made sense in 2005, promise.)

Even when Texas does go on a rapid 12-0 run to go from 23 down to 11 down with 2:30 left, Tennessee forces an A.J. Abrams three-point miss that turns into an Andre Patterson dunk on the other end.

For the final 35 minutes and 12 seconds of this game, Texas trails Tennessee by double-digits after being a 12-point favorite. They rarely get within 20 points. The final score is Tennessee 95, Texas 78, and even that feels generous to Texas after a Tennessee 23-point lead with six minutes left. What both sides had just witnessed was one of the biggest beatdowns a top ten team has taken from an unranked opponent at home.

The Longhorns’ 17-point defeat is tied for the 12th-worst defeat by a top-six team playing at home against an unranked opponent. At the time of the game, it was tied for the largest defeat suffered by a top-six team at home to one of these teams since 1991. The Volunteers had uncorked a once-every-decade beatdown on a team that truly hadn’t seen it coming. There was no ceiling anymore; the sky was the limit.

NEXT PAGE: Thunder road

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