After two blowout victories against inferior opponents, the Tennessee Volunteers got their first true test of the season in the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. In a turnover-filled game that left both head coaches exasperated with their teams’ play, the Vols found a way to come away with a victory to push their unblemished record to 3-0.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Vols capped an opening-season three game homestand with a 66-53 victory of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The turnover-filled game featured bad basketball from both teams. The Vols and Yellow Jackets shot a collective 7-31 from the three-point line and racked up a combined 49 fouls. Although Tennessee never ran away from Josh Pastner’s young and largely inexperienced ACC squad, the outcome of the game never felt in any real doubt.
Let’s start with the good. Through three games, Tennessee is out to prove that defense can indeed win championships. It’s one thing for inferior opponents like Lenoir Rhyne and Louisiana to struggle scoring, but an Atlantic Coast Conference foe — even one picked to finish 13th in its own conference — shooting a woeful 27.6 percent from the field and 3-19 from the three-point line is the best indicator yet that the Vols could be one of the better defensive teams in the country. Make no mistake, this Georgia Tech team is unlikely to scorch the nets this season. Nevertheless, holding any Division I team to 30 points through the first 27 minutes of the game is no small feat. Barnes acknowledged as much after the game, stating that the game represented Tennessee’s best defensive effort to date on the young season.
Rick Barnes took issue with his team’s inability to clean up the glass in its first 2 games. Tonight, they produced a better effort (outrebounding Tech 44-37). His best player drew the vast majority of his ire, with Barnes criticizing Grant Williams after Tennessee’s exhibition win over Tusculum:
There’s no way he should have three rebounds in a game like this. It’s just a mindset. He’s got to understand, that’s probably the biggest statistic that he’s going to be judged by.”
With back-to-back games of nearly double digit rebounds, Williams seems to have taken the message to heart.
John Fulkerson came off the bench and provided the exact kind of energy Rick Barnes wants to see. He had two impressive blocks in the second half, dove on the floor for loose balls, and finished the game with 6 rebounds in only 16 minutes of action.
FULKY BLOCKING EVERYTHING pic.twitter.com/aFumm3KeyQ
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) November 14, 2018
The Bad & the Ugly
Whew, where to begin. Tennessee’s motion offense was downright porous for much of the game. Both Jordan Bone and Admiral Schofield turned the ball over countless times on careless passes. As a team, the Vols finished the game with 12 assists to 13 turnovers. Various Tennessee players came up lame after repeated instances of disjointed play. Thankfully, Bone, Schofield, and Kyle Alexander all avoided what at different times looked like potentially scary injuries (especially in light of last night’s gruesome injury to Brooklyn Nets player Caris LeVert).
Schofield, in particular, was uncharacteristically all out of sorts. Sporting the Horace Grant look for the second game in a row, the rec specs lasted all of six minutes before the senior hurled them to the sidelines after a missed two-footer. This sequence proved symbolic of how much he would struggle on the night, as he finished with a measly 8 points on 3 of 13 shooting to go with four turnovers. The Vols could have used the steady shot-making presence of guard Lamonte Turner. The upperclassmen and reigning SEC co-Sixth Man of the Year missed his third straight game with a shoulder injury. The good news, according to Barnes, is that his return doesn’t appear too far away.
How about senior Kyle Alexander’s second-half scoring spurt? With the Vols up ten with just under twelve and half minutes to play, Alexander made three of four free throws and knocked down a rare three pointer from the top of the key. Alexander’s six straight points maintained the Vols lead at double digits.
The senior from Canada showed up to Knoxville nearly four years ago a raw prospect with very little offense to his game. With the help of a Tennessee coaching staff who has shown a penchant for big-time player development, the 6-10 center has flashed a more assertive low-post game early in the season. In addition to the previously mentioned three-pointer, Alexander’s offensive arsenal against Tech featured a fadeaway jumper and jump hook.
Player of the Game
Grant Williams followed up a 31 point, 10 rebound effort with another gem, scoring 22 to go with 8 boards. An inexperienced Tech team had no answer for Williams all night. He drew fouls, spun out of double teams for nifty finishes, and flashed a new fadeaway jumper. He turned in a workman-like effort of steady efficiency on 6 of 10 shooting.
Through three games, Williams looks like a fitter and more refined version of last season’s SEC Player of the Year — a scary thought for the rest of the SEC.
The Vols figure to face their best competition to date over the course of the next ten days. Tennessee open the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament in Brooklyn, New York with the Louisville Cardinals in just over a week’s time. In addition to Tennessee and Louisville, Kansas and Marquette round out the four team field. We will preview the Louisville game by checking in with Louisville basketball reporter Jacob Lane of the Big Red Louie.
Like Tennessee basketball? Check back all season for previews, recaps, and other hot takes under our College Hoops tab.
Banner Image: Saul Young/News Sentinel