The official song of the United States Army is “The Army Goes Rolling Along.” It’s fitting, then, that on Veteran’s Day weekend, the Tennessee Volunteers men’s hoops team kept their strong start rolling, as well, moving to 2-0 with a comfortable win over the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns a.k.a. the artist formerly known as Louisiana-Lafayette. While a win over a Sun Belt opponent is usually nothing to get excited about, keep in mind that Louisiana went 27-7 with a conference record of 16-2 last season. These guys were no cupcake and the Vols still dropped 87 in route to a 22 point win.
We are only two games in, but slow starts appear to be a trend for the Vols. Lenoir-Rhyne stuck around early during the week and last night was no different. The Ragin’ Cajuns led for most of the opening minutes until a Jordan Bone three-pointer tied the game at 13. Bone then found Grant Williams soon after for an alley-oop on an in-bounds play that also earned him an and-one. Williams sunk the free throw and the Vols never looked back, going on a 23-4 run for a large portion of the half. The teams hit the locker room with Tennessee leading 48-31.
The second half started just as torrid as the first with both teams having little trouble putting the ball in the basket. Cajun’s forward Malik Marquetti (one of Admiral Schofield’s rivals for best name in college basketball) drained two quick threes to cut the Vol’s lead to 50-37. That would be the closest they got, though, and despite the Cajuns playing pretty good basketball for large stretches, the Vols pulled away and the lead stayed around 20 for the rest of the night.
Williams ended the game with 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists. Schofield put in a steady performance, as well, with 15, 7, and 7. Other notable Vols performances came from Bone who had 10 points and 8 assists and Jordan Bowden and Kyle Alexander who both dropped 10, as well, putting every Tennessee starter in double digits for the night. The bench, meanwhile, saw very little success scoring last night with John Fulkerson (5), Yves Pons (4), and Jalen Johnson (2) combining for just 11 bench points.
Let’s start with the bad. Tennessee absolutely needs to get more production from their bench players. Missing Lamonte Turner (shoulder) is big and his upcoming return should result in more bench scoring, but depth was supposed to be one of this team’s strengths. Fulkerson and Pons both saw 18 minutes, but Johnson and Derrick Walker combined for 6 minutes of action, meaning Tennessee essentially ran a 7-man rotation. That ain’t gonna work. Again, Turner’s return is big, but either Pons or Johnson need to give us another consistent scoring option off the bench.
On the flip side, as good as the Tennessee starters look, maybe it won’t matter. Every Vols starter did what they do best last night. Williams racked up the points and rebounds, even going 3-4 from deep. If teams are forced to respect that aspect of his game, the Vols offense gets a whole lot scarier. Schofield again showed he can do a little bit of everything on the court grabbing 7 boards and dishing 7 assists while scoring 15. While he didn’t stuff the stat sheet across the board (although 8 assists is encouraging), Jordan Bone deserves a shout-out here for his performance. He was solely responsible for keeping up with the Cajuns’ hot start scoring the majority of the Vols’ early points. He also just looks more mature on the ball and more comfortable running the offense. Point guard was our biggest problem last season and the evolution of Bone will be critical in how far Tennessee goes this season.
Defensively, the Vols were good but not great. Barnes won’t be happy giving up 65 against a Sun Belt opponent (they were on pace for over 70 with 10 minutes left), but the Cajuns hit some pretty tough looks, especially in the second half. Despite what I thought was a strong offensive effort from the Cajuns, led by 18-point scorer JaKeenan Gant, the Vols were able to keep this game a blow-out for pretty much the entirety of the game due to the offense’s ability to answer every Cajun bucket. Last year’s Vols went only as far as the defense would take them, but this team looks equipped to outscore most teams if needed. The defense will have to be better if the Vols hope to beat Kansas in a few weeks, but I’ll blame last night’s average defensive showing on our comfortable lead and Louisiana making some tough shots that probably shouldn’t have gone in.
GRANT. WILLIAMS. 👀 pic.twitter.com/wzSrSw41uP
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 10, 2018
This is one of the easiest choices I’ll have to make all season. With the game still close in the first half, Bone found Williams for this beauty of an alley-oop which also got him to the free throw line. The Vols went on a run from here and entered the locker room with a 17-point lead.
Player of the Game
This one has to go to Williams, as well. The dude did everything last night. He dropped an impressive 31 points on 73% shooting. He also grabbed 10 rebounds, hopefully impressing Rick Barnes who has openly challenged Williams to be a better rebounder this season. Most notably, he made 3 three-pointers on just 4 attempts. If he has truly added the deep ball to his repertoire, Williams will be a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses and the lane will become much more open for slashers like Bone.
Tennessee welcomes the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Tuesday at 9 p.m. before jetting off to Brooklyn for the NIT Tip-Off staring down potential match-ups with Louisville and top-ranked Kansas. Essentially, we’re about to find out what we’re made of real damn quick.
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