The Tennessee men’s basketball team traveled to Columbia, Missouri tonight to continue SEC play against the Missouri Tigers and head coach/renowned snake Cuonzo Martin. It’s always tough to win on the road in college basketball but the Vols kept their now 9-game winning streak alive with a runaway win against a Mizzou team that hadn’t lost since November. Despite a slow start, Tennessee’s “road guts” were too much for the Tigers and solid performances from Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander moved the Vols to 13-1 on the season and 2-0 in conference play. In case you missed any of the action, let’s dive in and take a look at the highlights.
The Vols were sluggish out of the gate and Missouri raced to 19-10 and 27-18 leads, both representing Tennessee’s biggest deficits of the season. Tiger’s senior guard Jordan Geist was hot early, accounting for 10 of Mizzou’s first 17 points. The Vols responded to the latter of the 9 point deficits, however, by sprinting to a 24-4 run over the final seven minutes of the half, largely thanks to Jordan Bone who finished the first 20 minutes with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. Despite Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams combining for just 3 points in the first, Tennessee hit the locker room up 42-31.
Strong start to our SEC road swing! pic.twitter.com/b5UkYgU6Nb
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) January 9, 2019
The second half was all Vols as Tennessee consistently extended the lead en route to an 87-63 win. A Vols defense that was on pace to give up 90 points with 7 minutes remaining in the first half buckled down and smothered Mizzou, holding them to just 32 points in the second stanza. Several Vols who struggled in the first half also took the load of of Jordan Bone’s back with Schofield in particular having a solid 13-point second half. The real star of the second, though, was Kyle Alexander who seemed to track down every single rebound, ending the night with an insane 17 boards.
Jordan Bowden led Tennessee in scoring for the second straight game as he reached the 20-point threshold in back-to-back games. Jordan Bone cooled down in the second half but still finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. Maybe most impressive for the Vols was Kyle Alexander who paired his 17 rebounds with 16 points. Rounding out the Tennessee standouts was Lamonte Turner who shot a lethally efficient 75% from three, proving what an important piece he is to Tennessee off the bench.
Notably missing from tonight’s recap is Grant Williams who finished the night 1-8 from the field with 4 points, 1 rebound, and 5 fouls. And yet the Vols still went on the road against a hot Mizzou team and won by 24 points. That may be the most telling narrative all season of just how deep and just how many contributors this Tennessee squad has. Jordan Bowden seems to be responding well to his bench role and has led the Vols in scoring in back-to-back games. We’ll see how much longer Rick Barnes keeps him out of the starting lineup, especially with Lamonte Turner returning to give the bench scoring threat that Bowden was providing.
Speaking of changes to the starting lineup, Yves Pons has combined for 3 points in the first two SEC games of the season and has looked lost on offense again. He took just one shot against Georgia and just two shots tonight. It might just be a slump as Pons has looked much-improved this season, especially on the defensive end, but with a scorching hot Bowden and a newly healthy Turner at his disposal, Rick Barnes might have a hard time justifying sending the Flying Frenchman out to start this weekend’s road battle with Florida.
In the front-court, both Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander had strong performances for Tennessee. Schofield was reliable as ever with 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists. This type of consistency proves that senior leadership goes a long way in success in college basketball. Alexander, though, was even more impressive, grabbing a crazy 17 rebounds and putting up 16 points. If Alexander can be counted on to produce anything close to those type of numbers on nights that Grant Williams struggles, Tennessee’s depth might be the best in the country.
Player of the Game
Jordan Bone may not have taken over Grant Williams’ or Admiral Schofield’s mantle as Tennessee’s best player (yet), but performances like tonight’s prove that he is just as important to Tennessee’s national title hopes as either of the other two. While Tennessee struggled to score in the early goings, Bone kept them afloat with 7 of the squad’s first 16 points before exploding for 8 more as part of Tennessee’s 24-4 first half run. His quickness and ability to get to the basket is elite in college basketball and his decision making and passing while on the ball gets better and better every week. When his jumper falls like it did tonight, Jordan Bone is legitimately one of the best point guards in college basketball, a luxury that no Vols fan expected in November. Several other Vols put up solid numbers by the end of it, but Jordan Bone gets the nod for Player of the Game for navigating Tennessee through a gutsy first half. My apologies to Kyle Alexander who was a close runner-up.
Tennessee travels to Florida on Saturday for a night match-up with an underachieving Gators squad who can’t seem to find consistent success this season despite boasting one of the nation’s top defenses. Mike White’s team has won five of their last seven, though, with the two losses being by a combined 6 points, including a decent showing in a tough loss to a very good Michigan State. Tennessee will be the favorite, but I expect the Vols’ rivals to bring their A-game in what could be a defensive struggle against the 12th-best scoring defense in the country.
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