KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 2 seed Tennessee kicked off its NIT run on Wednesday night in Knoxville against Mercer, but the Vols were unable to down the seventh-seeded Bears in a 75-67 loss. Trae Golden did his best for Tennessee (20-13) with 20 points on the night, but it was not quite enough to overcome a 50 percent shooting effort by the Bears (24-11).
The Vols went into the half facing a six-point deficit and needed a big second half. The Bears had different plans, though, outscoring UT 41-39 in the final 20 minutes to hold off the run and escape Thompson-Boling Arena with the win and advance to the second round of the tourney.
The Bears got a huge effort out of senior guard Travis Smith, who knocked down seven of his 13 shots on the night en route to a game-high 25 points. Smith wasn’t the only Bear to turn in a solid performance, either.
Langston Hall added 16 points on 50 percent shooting, while Daniel Coursey chipped in 15 points and four rebounds while hitting all seven of his shot attempts. Jakob Gollon capped off the well rounded performance with 12 points of his own to go along with three assists and three rebounds.
Tennessee did not shoot particularly well in the loss, hitting just 38 percent of its shots and just 29 percent from beyond 3-point range. The Volunteers also struggled from the free throw stripe, where they hit only 66 percent of their attempts.