AUSTIN, Texas — Tennessee basketball could not score at Texas on Saturday night. Then it could not miss until the shot it needed most.
Josiah-Jordan James‘ potential game-winning 3-point attempt hit the back of the rim in the final second after the Vols scored 16 straight points to rally from a seemingly impossible deficit to tie the Longhorns in the final 90 seconds at the Erwin Center.
Texas’ Timmy Allen made a free throw with 6.2 seconds left, the Longhorns’ first points in more than five minutes, and sent Tennessee back to Knoxville with a 52-51 loss in coach Rick Barnes’ return to Austin.
“I wanted to win this basketball game,” Barnes said. “I know my guys wanted to win this game for me, I know they did.”
James and freshman guard Zakai Zeigler sparked the comeback for No. 20 Tennessee (14-6), which had a mostly offensively challenged game against No. 25 Texas (16-5). James and Zeigler combined for 23 points, including 15 of Tennessee’s 19 points in the final 5:32.
Tennessee basketball’s comeback
Tennessee made two field goals in the first 13:23 of the second half before James hit a 3-pointer with 6:37 to play. Texas scored soon after, taking a 51-35 lead after 35 miserable minutes from the Vols. Then Tennessee turned the game around offensively, while pairing it with great defense in the final 5:32.
“It was one of the most exciting five minutes I’ve had this year,” forward Olivier Nkamhoua said. “But not so exciting anymore.”
James made a jumper, Santiago Vescovi made a layup and James made another 3-pointer to cut the lead to 51-42. Zeigler scored seven points in 72 seconds to make it a two-point game with 1:47 to play.
“I was just a guy that made shots, but I feel like anybody on the team could have done the same exact thing by just attacking,” Zeigler said.
Victor Bailey Jr. tipped in a missed 3-pointer to tie it 51-51 with 1:23 to play.
Texas took only two shots in the final 5:20 and had four turnovers, including a 10-second violation. It missed five straight free throws before Allen made the winning attempt.
Tennessee got an open look from James to win the game, but it missed and he put his hands on his head.
“I think it was shot that we wanted,” James said. “I think we take that shot 10 times out of 10. I just didn’t make it.”
The swing before and after halftime
Tennessee took a 23-22 lead with 1:52 to play in the first half on Zeigler’s 3-pointer. He hit a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 25-22, then Tennessee unraveled for 15 minutes..
The Vols missed eight straight shots before Kennedy Chandler got a steal and runout at the 14:40 mark of the second half. Nkamhoua made Tennessee’s first second-half field goal in the halfcourt at the 10:23 mark.
Tennessee was 1-for-16 shooting between Zeigler’s 3-pointer and Nkamhoua’s jumper.
Texas scored 15 straight points spanning the end of the first half and into the second half before Chandler’s hoop. The Vols had a horrible end to the half when Nkamhoua fouled Texas’ Courtney Ramey on a half-court shot. It is the second time the Vols committed such a foul in January.
Ramey made two of three free throws to put Tennessee behind 27-25 at halftime.
Texas limited Santiago Vescovi
Vescovi had the third 23-point game of his career Wednesday against Florida, matching his career high. He did not score from the field until the 4:37 mark of the second half Saturday. He missed his first six shot attempts and finished with three points on 1-for-8 shooting. He had five rebounds and four assists.
“We held their best player to three points,” Texas coach Chris Beard said. “He is one of the best players in the country.”
Barnes felt Vescovi was passing up shots and challenged him on the bench to seek his shot. Vescovi had scored at least 13 points in nine straight games and had a pair of games with at least 20 points in his past four.
Tennessee hosts Texas A&M on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, SEC Network).
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee basketball’s comeback falls short at Texas in Rick Barnes’ return