Rick Barnes described Tennessee basketball as excessively emotional during their defeat against Kentucky.

Josiah-Jordan James found himself at center court, grappling with his emotions. Clutching a shadowbox containing his jersey, he reflected on his lengthy and fruitful journey with Tennessee basketball.

As his name resounded through the arena, James was met with thunderous applause from the crowd. He paused for snapshots with coaches and family members, tears flowing freely as he embraced his mother.

Less than 20 minutes after the poignant Senior Day ceremony, James had to transition to facing off against No. 15 Kentucky in his 81st and final game in Knoxville.

“It was incredibly tough,” James admitted. “I can’t recall the last time I shed tears. I was overwhelmed, reflecting on everything I’ve endured, along with this group and the entire organization. The magnitude of the moment was profound, making it challenging to shift focus to the task at hand, especially on a day like today.”

Despite Dalton Knecht’s exceptional performance, scoring a career-high 40 points, the game concluded in an 85-81 loss for Tennessee (24-7, 14-4 SEC) on Senior Day. Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes attributed the team’s emotional state as a contributing factor to the defeat.

The emotional intensity might have lingered from the Senior Day celebrations. Tennessee struggled early, missing its initial five shots and failing to score for the opening three minutes. Perhaps feeling pressured by the arrival of rival Kentucky, the Vols resorted to hasty shots, including attempts over double teams, exacerbating their sluggish start.

Barnes expressed dissatisfaction with the team’s emotional approach postgame, emphasizing the need to maintain composure and adhere to their established strategies. Despite their valiant efforts, the Wildcats proved formidable adversaries, particularly from beyond the arc, shooting 51.7% from three-point range.

The slow start ultimately cost the Vols their final regular-season game against Kentucky. Although concerned about the emotional spill-over into postseason play, James remained resolute in the team’s focus and determination moving forward.

With the one-and-done format of the SEC or NCAA Tournament, managing emotions becomes paramount to avoid premature elimination. Despite the challenges, James affirmed the team’s commitment to remain focused and determined as they advance to Nashville and beyond.

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