ATLANTA -- Tennessee (6-1) escaped from Atlanta on Sunday night with a 77-70 win over Georgia Tech (4-3). The Vols had to grit this one out down the stretch, with leading scorer Grant Williams on the bench with five fouls. Here are four quick takes on tonight’s action.
1 — My game ball goes to — Lamonte Turner. Was he perfect? Heck no. But the kid showed some…ahem…heart I guess we’ll call it to keep it family friendly.
Tuner scored a team high 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting but those numbers don’t do his contributions justice. With Grant Williams battling foul trouble throughout the second half and Tennessee before fouling out with 3:08 left, Turner (with some help from Admiral Schofield) just carried the Vols offense down the stretch.
Tennessee went through one drought where the Vols didn’t make a bucket for nearly six minutes and Georgia Tech trimmed a nine point Tennessee lead all the way down to one point at 58-57 with 2:28 left to play.
Turner scored nine points in the next 1:48, getting one breakaway lay-up off a steal and going 7-for-7 at the line during that stretch to put Tennessee on top 71-60.
All told Turner would score 16 points in the second half, 11 of them in the final 6:25 when the rest of his team was ice cold.
Turner didn’t start the game, but he didn’t leave the floor during crunch time. That was either a result of Barnes riding the hot hand or a reflection of his view that Turner is a closer. Regardless, Tennessee needed someone to step up and prevent Tech from pulling off the comeback, Turner was up to the task. Big night for him.
Honorary mention to Kyle Alexander who held his own with Georgia Tech’s Ben Lammers, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Lammers had a nice game with 17 points and nine rebounds, but he was just 4-of-11 from the field. Alexander seven points, 11 rebounds and three blocks of his own before fouling out.
2 — Backcourt by committee — Seven games into the season Jordan Bowden, on the wing, looks like the steadiest presence in the Vols’ backcourt on both ends of the floor. Rick Barnes also looks like he has four other solid options at the lead guard spot in Jordan Bone, Lamonte Turner, James Daniel and Chris Darrington.
However, that group of four has also shown a good bit of inconsistency, at least on the offensive end. Defensively everyone looks much improved from a year ago and Bowden is showing the potential to be a real gem on that end of the floor.
What Barnes doesn’t know right now is what he’s going to get from other individuals on any given night.
Tonight it was Lamonte Turner time. He came in to give Tennessee a spark of the bench with eight first half points, including a big three that killed some early Georgia Tech momentum. Turner also owned the final minutes of the game for the Vols as discussed above.
Outside of his sterling play though it was kind of a hit or miss night for the Vols. Bowden was solid, but not spectacular, getting 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting, but he made only one bucket in the second half.
Jordan Bone scored six points, handed out four assists and just had one turnover, but he was also 0-of-4 from the floor.
James Daniel and Chris Darrington combined for seven points on 3-of-8 shooting.
Everyone of these guys is capable of contributing, and a couple of them are capable of putting up big numbers on any given night. The problem for Barnes right now is that he just doesn’t know who’s going to do what from one game to the next, which is an uncomfortable position for a coach to be in.
3 — Ride the three-ball — With few exceptions, last year’s Tennessee squad wasn’t going to boat race many people by getting out from three-point range and shooting them out of the gym. The Vols ended last year making just 32.6% from three-point range, the 11th worst mark in the SEC.
Seven games into the 2017-18 season Tennessee looks like a different—and dangerous—team from long range.
The Vols were a rock solid 8-of-20 from three point range today, but the use of the three-pointer as a weapon was on full display in the first half.
Tennessee got off to a sluggish shooting start from behind the arc, missing their first four attempts. The Vols turned things around in a hurry though, making five straight three-pointers (two from Jordan Bowden) to grab the upper hand in the contest on the way to building a 35-29 halftime lead.
Tennessee’s ability to connect from long range put a great deal of pressure on Georgia Tech’s offense, which never came close to matching their efforts. The home team was just 1-of-6 from long range in the first half and finished 1-of-6 from deep
The Yellow Jacket’s ability to get to the foul line, where they converted 10-of-14 in the first half, allowed them to hang around for much of the contest, but they could never shoot themselves into the lead.
Tennessee has been more efficient from deep, but rarely in this young season have they drained the kind of timely three-pointers that they did tonight to keep Georgia Tech at arm’s length.
The biggest two came within moments of each other after Georgia Tech had crawled all the way to within one point.
Turner and Schofield hit back to back three-pointers in the second half to quiet a Georgia Tech run and turn a 41-40 Tennessee lead into a 47-40 edge that gave the Vols some much needed cushion with just over 12 minutes left to play.
Georgia Tech would pad its three-point shooting stats in the frantic closing minutes with a couple of makes as they were fouling to extend the game to finish 6-of-16, but that was a bit of an illusion.
Tennessee’s ability to get three-point baskets and Tech’s inability to counter was a big part of the Vols grabbing the upper hand in the first half.
4 — Killer instinct — I don’t think this Tennessee team is soft, far from it in fact, as their play in a back-and-forth second half showed. However, they had a chance to put Georgia Tech in a really tough spot at the close of the first half and didn’t do it.
Rick Barnes would probably tell you the issue was ‘focus,’ a topic he’s talked a great deal about in regards to this team.
It looked like Tennessee was about to take a 35-26 lead into the locker room at the half, but Derrick Walker made a rookie mistake, fouling a three-point shooter with 0.4 left on the clock. The Yellow Jackets made all three foul shots and actually took some momentum of their own into the locker room as a result, just down six in a game they should have been trailing by double digits in.
Continuing with that theme I thought Tennessee came out a little tentative in the second half while Georgia Tech had the intensity you might expect from a desperate team trying to avoid a second consecutive home loss.
Tennessee turned the ball over four times in the first five minutes of the second half and Georgia Tech took advantage of those extra possessions, going on an 11-4 run to pull all the way to within 41-40 a development which got a largely silent crowd on their feet and into the game.
The Vols showed their mental toughness by regrouping and preventing Georgia Tech from ever taking the second half lead, but a more mature and disciplined team might have been able to put this Yellow Jacket squad into a deep hole early in the second half.
We saw a similar development when Tennessee let Villanova back up off the mat after leading the Wildcats by 14 in the Battle4Atlantis.
Georgia Tech wasn’t good enough to take advantage of some of the Vols’ lapses tonight, but that won’t be the case down the road. When Tennessee has a chance to put a team under its boot they need to learn to take advantage of the opportunity.
Tennessee showed plenty of mental toughness in closing this one out with Grant Williams on the bench, but had they been a little more on point earlier we probably wouldn’t have seen that late game drama.