Yes, it was one game — a game against a Division II opponent — but the number six ranked Harlem VOLtrotters opened the season with a resounding 86-41 win. With blocks and dunks galore, this Tennessee team looks vastly deeper and more athletic than last year.
The Tennessee men’s basketball team opened the 2018 season with a dominant win over head coach Rick Barnes‘ alma mater, Division II Lenoir Rhyne Bear. In a game that was only close for the first ten minutes, UT outran, outjumped, and outdunked a vastly inferior team. That takes nothing away from the fact that a bone-chilling hype video, a lofty preseason ranking and Final 4 projections look anything but deserved for the Tennessee Volunteers.
Who the Heck is Lenoir Rhyne?
Make no mistake, the scheduling of a tiny liberal arts school a tenth of Tennessee’s size was no mistake by Rick Barnes. In fact, the Tennessee head coach played guard for Lenoir Rhyne from 1974 to 1977. The Division II school counted towards Tennessee’s overall record even though Lenoir Rhyne decided to count the game as an exhibition.
If Barnes thought his team would possibly overlook the Division II opponent, he thought wrong as the Vols cruised to a 45-point win. Jordan Bone led all Tennessee scorers with 18 and Kyle Alexander chipped in 16. As for the the reigning SEC Player of the Year and skilled piano player (did you watch the hype video up above or not), Grant Williams simply stuffed the stat sheet 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists. All offseason, the talk around Williams was about him expanding range on his jumper. The early returns seem positive after he knocked down a three pointer on his second attempt of the game (he made only three 3s all season last year). His running mate and
NFL tight end senior leader Admiral Schofield followed suit with a nearly identical stat line. Tennessee shot nearly 57% and held Lenoir Rhyne to 20% shooting and nearly ten minutes without a field goal in the second half.
The Vols starting five looked strong in scoring 71 of the team’s 85 points. All five starters scored in double figures. UT was without key reserve Lamonte Turner who missed the game with an undisclosed injury, but Yves Pons, John Fulkerson and Derrick Walker came off the bench to provide quality minutes. Pons in particular made his presence felt from the first minute he stepped on the court. The Flyin’ Frenchman turned the ball over on an entry pass only to make up for it with a chase down block that saw him nearly hit his head on the rim. Oh, and he has no regard for human life or rims. Can we just go ahead and get a dunk-off between Pons and Zion Williamson already?
— FOX Sports Knoxville (@FOXSportsKnox) November 7, 2018
Rick Barnes and Tennessee fans had to be encouraged by the play of John Fulkerson as well. Fulkerson did not hesitate on one of his first touches of the game, catching the ball at the top of the key and driving straight to the rim for 2. He also kept plays alive with offensive rebounds, and showed an overall aggressiveness that was largely absent throughout last season. If Barnes can spell his starters with quality production from his second unit, this team will prove tough to beat.
Lenoir Rhyne hung around for the first nine minutes of the game thanks to a scorching start from the three point line. Their fifth three pointer of the game cut Tennessee’s lead to two at 20-18, prompting a quick Tennessee timeout and an earful from the head coach. Full-court pressure by the Vols out of the break resulted in a lightning quick 10-0 run — a run punctuated by a thunderous Kyle Alexander alley-oop off a fast-break lob from Jordan Bowden that brought the fans inside Thompson-Boling Arena to their feet. The Bears would never get closer than 8 again.
Admiral swiped it.
JB alleyed it.
Kyle OOPED it. 😤 pic.twitter.com/NOOepdz3Jl
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) November 7, 2018
Player of the Game
A true toss-up between Tennessee’s two leading scorers, how about senior center Kyle Alexander (@KyleJamal4) putting up an impressive 16 points and 5 rebounds in 24 minutes of action. The tallest player on the UT roster ran the floor, altered shots, and finished around the rim. He’s never going to light up the scoreboard, but if Alexander can expand his game and score when called upon Tennessee becomes all the more versatile.
Point guard Jordan Bone scored the majority of his game-high 18 on drives to the rim. Often criticized for too quickly settling for jumpers, the junior repeatedly attacked the basket and looked as quick as ever. As the season drags on and tired legs produce off shooting nights, Bone needs to make good on drawing fouls and finishing layups.
The Vols welcome the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns to Thompson-Boling Arena for a six o’clock tip (CT). The competition gets stiffer from there with back-to-back ACC foes in Georgia Tech and Louisville with the game against Louisville the opener of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
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Banner Image: Mark Humphrey