Tennessee (2-0) rolled by visiting High Point (1-1) tonight 84-53 — an outcome that was largely a result of the Vols putting together a dominating 32-0 run during one stretch of the first half.
Here are four quick takes on the blowout win.
1 — Defense — I might be proven wrong when the competition stiffens up, which will happen next week in the Bahamas, but as of now I got to think this is going to be a much better defensive team than what we saw last year.
Now, obviously, High Point and Presbyterian aren’t juggernauts, but Tennessee looked dominant defensively tonight in a way that suggests the improvement might be real.
Certainly, Barnes has put more emphasis on the defensive end than anywhere else this preseason and that effort has shown up in the first two games
Tennessee totally flummoxed High Point tonight, especially in the first half. The Vols absolutely sucked the life out of the Panthers’ offense, at one point holding them 12:15 without a made field goal — a stretch that included 14 straight missed shots.
This was a High Point team that scored 100 points in a season opening 100-66 win over William & Mary last Friday.
The Vols pressured the ball, contested shots, shut down penetration, denied the ball on the wings and controlled the glass.
Understandably, the intensity waned a bit in the second half of the game the Vols led 52-13 at the half.
In that first half Tennessee held the visitors to just 20.8% shooting from the floor, 16.7% from three point range and forced them into 11 turnovers.
2 — That Run — Yes, it was against High Point, but I don’t care. When you rattle off a 32-0 run against a Division I opponent, that’s an impressive feat.
Tennessee was deadly efficient in that first half, and probably most pleasing to Rick Barnes is that the Vols truly turned defense into offense.
The Vols forced 11 turnovers in the first half, converting the takeaways into 24 points. That’s a blitz.
Tennessee also capitalized on second chances, turning eight first half offensive rebounds into 11 points. Those are extra possessions that can swing a game, and no, they won’t be that easy to come by later in the season against better teams.
I thought another thing that keyed the run was solid shot selection. There were a couple of distinct ‘heat checks’ along the way, but for the most part Tennessee didn’t force the issue, tried to get the ball inside to Williams, scored in transition and made 11-of-12 shots at the free throw line.
If you want to nitpick, and Barnes certainly will, if the Vols would have taken better care of the basketball in the first half they might have scored 60. Tennessee had eight turnovers in the first half and still managed to compile 52 points.
3 — Best Things I saw — In no particular order:
Vol fans have to be encouraged by how John Fulkerson looked tonight. I’m still not ready to declare him all the way back, but he looks noticeably better than he has to this point.
Fulkerson finished with 8 points, three rebounds, and three steals, but more importantly he looked like he was getting closer to being the Tasmanian Devil type of presence on both ends of the floor that fans fell in love with last year.
Grant Williams crashed the boards at a high level tonight, something that Barnes is in his ear about constantly. He had eight rebounds in 14 first half minutes and finished the night with 12 boards in just 22 minutes.
He only scored 7 points and was just 2-of-9 from the field, but that shouldn’t be a concern to anyone. Williams’ offense is going to be there. I don’t think anyone is remotely concerned about that. He’s also the kind of player that was able to realize on a night like tonight that his team wasn’t going to need him to score and so there’s no sense in forcing the issue.
I’m going to toss Lamonte Turner’s 3-point shooting into this section as well. Turner was scoreless in the opener against Presbyterian but bounced back tonight and what caught my eye was the 4-of-6 shooting from three point range.
The Vols are going to need to be better than the 32.6% three-point shooting team they were a year ago, and if Turner —along with Jordan Bowden (2-for-4 tonight)— can up his game from long range, that’s going to
I would have loved to have thrown Jordan Bone in here, because he did some really nice things tonight, finishing with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor. He was ultra aggressive and efficient in getting to the rim with his dribble tonight and made 2-of-3 from three-point range.
However, Bone had six turnovers on the game, and as the point guard, that’s a sin we can’t look past. It’s noteworthy though that he didn’t have a single turnover in the opener on Friday.
4 — Balance — Barnes has talked all preseason about the improved depth and balance on this team. That was in evidence tonight on the offensive end.
The Vols had two totally different leading scorers tonight than they did in the opener. This evening Bone and Turner shared the honors with 16 points each, and as we noted above, he was scoreless on Friday.
On Friday, it was Admiral Schofield (22) and Jordan Bowden (15) at the top of the scoring charts. Tonight Schofield was back in double figures with 14 but Bowden had just eight.
Offensively the Vols are going to have a number of guys who could spring for 15-20 points on any given night in my mind, something that just hasn’t been the case.
Williams wasn’t much of an offensive factor tonight with just eight points on 2-of-9 shooting but the offense really didn’t miss a beat. Now, that won’t be the case later on in the meat of the schedule, but it’s a nice early season sign that Barnes has an array of offensive options.