Four quick takes on a narrow escape
You’re not going to win many games when you shoot 26% from the floor but Tennessee found a way to do just that today. Here are four quick takes on a narrow 56-55 win over South Carolina.
1 — Ugly wins count the same — Suffice it to say they’re not going to be rushing the film of this one off to the Basketball Hall of Fame to use for future clinic purposes, but at the end of the day the W in the record book looks just the same as it would had Tennessee played a flawless 40 minutes of basketball.
Tennessee somehow found a way to get a win on a day when the Vols shot 26% from the floor and had 19 turnovers.
Make no mistake, playing a South Carolina team that is not very good was a big reason the Vols survived on what can kindly be called an off day.
Tennessee found a way to win despite Jordan Bowden having a historically off game. The senior was just 1-of-16 from the floor and didn’t make a shot in the second half.
The Vols had nearly twice as many turnovers as assists. They shot less than 30% for the game. They were out rebounded (47-42), yet they found a way to claw their way to a victory on a day when the box score suggested there was no way for that to happen.
One huge reason the Vols were able to escape today was their work at the free throw line. Tennessee was 22-of-28 at the stripe today. Conversely South Carolina was just 13-of-22 at the line and an ugly 7-of-15 in the second half.
Individually, John Fulkerson had three of the biggest plays of the game. With just under four minutes remaining he had a follow up dunk off a Jordan Bowden miss to give Tennessee a four point lead. Then immediately on the other end after South Carolina grabbed an offensive rebound and looked poised for a put back Fulkerson came up with a huge blocked shot.
The biggest game with under two seconds left with A.J. Lawson driving for the potential game winning bucket and Fulkerson stepped in and took the biggest charge of his career to preserve a one point win.
For the second straight game Santiago Vescovi came up big at the line in crunch time. Today he buried a pair of clutch free throws with 1:20 left in the game that made it a two possession game at 56-52.
2 — Hard to watch — Tennessee shot 7-of-27 (26%) from the field and had 10 turnovers in the first half today yet trailed South Carolina just 26-25 at the break. That’s because the Gamecocks had 12 turnovers of their own and shot a mere 32% from the floor.
In all the two squads had more turnovers in the first 20 minutes (22) than combined field goals (16). If you enjoy watching good basketball, that first half was definitely not for you.
Initially it felt like Tennessee was going to get rolling a little bit when the Vols jumped on top 7-0 in the first 1:30. That turned out to be fools gold in a big way. Tennessee then went 10:24 without making a shot. You read that right. Tennessee went more than ‘half of a half’ without getting a bucket.
The Vols turned it over, took bad shots, missed easy shots and in general just looked like a team that has no offensive identity and no go to player on that end of the floor.
Give Tennessee credit for hunkering down on defense and making it just as hard for South Carolina to get into any kind of groove, but man, it was some ugly basketball.
Matters didn’t improve a great deal in the second half but there were a couple more shots made.
This is simply a Tennessee team that doesn’t have much shooting, doesn’t have anyone who can consistently penetrate and get to the basket and doesn’t have a big man that can carry your offense from the post.
The fact that this team has trouble scoring didn’t exactly sneak up on anyone, not after a pair of games in December where they failed to crack 50 points, but today’s effort is evidence that they haven’t gotten any better and will continue to battle that issue all season long.
3 — Play smarter — This team basketball team has a very thin margin for error. Against even mediocre competition, like they faced today, they have to be sharp on both ends of the floor.
Sometimes shots aren’t going to fall. When they don’t you have to compensate by playing good defense (which Tennessee did today) and taking care of the basketball (which they didn’t). The Vols finished the day with 19 turnovers which is an obvious problem.
When you’re struggling to make even a third of your shots like Tennessee did today you can’t afford to waste possessions. Fortunately South Carolina was equally careless with the basketball which prevented Tennessee from getting blown out of its own gym by a bad SEC team.
The Vols didn’t do themselves any favors on offense with their shot selection either. Tennessee took more than half its shots from three-point range today, 31 of their 64 attempts. When you don’t even make 30% from three as a team, you don’t need to be taking more than half your shots from behind the arc. The Vols finished 6-of-31 from deep today yet kept firing away.
That’s not smart basketball.
I think some of that is probably a result of not really having a guard that can penetrate and create offense for others and some of that is a result of not having a great post presence. Regardless, bombing away from long range when that is decidedly not a strength of your team isn’t a recipe for success.
Tennessee also did itself absolutely no favors on the defensive glass today. South Carolina isn’t a team with intimidating size by any means but they beat the Vols up on the offensive boards today, grabbing 16 of their own misses. Tennessee was fortunate that the Gamecocks didn’t those 16 extra chances into more than just eight points.
4 — Quick hits — It’s patently unfair to criticize Santiago Vescovi for anything at this stage of his career, let’s be clear about that. The fact that he’s starting at point guard for Tennessee and has since the moment he stepped on campus just two weeks ago and contributing the way he is is borderline incredible and he’s a great story.
With that said, the turnovers are an issue. He had seven today and five of those came in the first seven minutes of the game. He’s going to struggle some, that’s perfectly natural given his utter lack of experience and limited practice time but he’s now got 22 turnovers in three college games, that’s a real problem.
He’s incredibly fun to watch and has a very obviously bright future here but Barnes has got to find a way to curtail the turnovers.
Barnes gave Drew Pember some second half run today, the first time that’s happened in SEC play. Pember got to stay on the floor for an extended stretch due to avoiding the kind of defensive breakdown that has driven Barnes crazy whenever he’s played the freshman. He gave them some good minutes and was on the court when Tennessee showed some signs of life and put together 7-0 spurt to tighten up the game after South Carolina had gone up 39-31 midway through the second half.
Pember grabbed a couple of big rebounds, made a pair of free throws, splashed a big three from the corner and finished with a +7 on the +/- chart.
Yves Pons decidedly did not have it going on the offensive end today, failing to make a shot (0-for-6) on his way to three points but the junior brought it on the other end of the floor. Pons had five blocks on the day, just reinforcing the notion that he’s one of the best shot blockers I’ve seen at Tennessee despite standing 6-foot-6 (at best).
As a team Tennessee had 10 blocks.
Jalen Johnson earned himself some big minutes for the second straight game. Some of that was because of foul trouble the Vols battled through but it mostly seemed a result of his continued growth on the defensive end.
Barnes constantly stresses to Johnson that his path to more playing time is going to be paved by solid defense and not made shots, a message that finally seems to be getting through to him.
Both teams were in the bonus today with more than 11 minutes left in the second half, making for a real slog down the homestretch.