Vols vs South Carolina
The Tennessee Men's Basketball team gears up to face South Carolina on Saturday, January 11, 2020 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Tennessee’s basketball team ended a losing skid this week picking up two SEC wins over South Carolina and Missouri.

The Vols entered the week with a two-game losing streak while also losing four of their last five. Tennessee needed to right the ship against two lower level SEC foes and while it wasn’t pretty, the Vols got it done.

Here’s how the Vols graded out.

Backcourt

It was a challenging week for the Vols young back court as Tennessee faced two of the best defensive teams in the SEC.

It was a crash course for Santiago Vescovi who was playing not only his second and third career games, but his second and third games in America. The results are a bit of what you’d expect for the young guard, some good and some bad.

Vescovi scored 12 critical second half points at Missouri including scoring eight points in a Tennessee 11-0 run that turned the tide of the game in Columbia. Against South Carolina, Vescovi scored 13 points, which includes hitting seven of eight free throws helping the Vols’ struggling offense.

However, there were issues with Vescovi’s performance as well; the Uruguayan native turned the ball over five times against Missouri and seven times against South Carolina.

Josiah-Jordan James was a non-factor in the first half of this week’s matchups scoring a combined three first half points. However, James played well in the second half, especially against the Tigers.

James scored 11 second half points against Missouri including a trio of big shots that tied up or gave Tennessee the lead. He was solid in the second half against South Carolina as well, scoring seven points while battling foul trouble before fouling out.

Jordan Bowden seemed to break out of his slump against Missouri, scoring a team high 13 points in the win. However, Bowden struggled mightily against the Gamecocks scoring six points on 1 of 17 shooting from the field and 1 of 12 shooting from beyond the arch.

Grade: B-

Frontcourt

Tennessee’s front court received good news to open the week when Missouri’s star forward Jeremiah Tillman was ruled out for the matchup with the Vols.

Tennessee’s big men took advantage of the opportunity as John Fulkerson and Yves Pons each went for 11 points. Fulkerson also grabbed six rebounds in the win.

Turnovers were an issue for both Fulkerson and Pons against the Tigers as Fulkerson turned over five times and Pons turned over three times.

Pons biggest contribution on the week was his continued development as a high end shot blocker. The junior blocked three shots against Missouri and five shots against South Carolina. The five blocks against the Gamecocks were a great example of making a difference when your offense is struggling as Pons four-point performance against South Carolina was his worst on the offensive end this season.

Fulkerson’s offense led the Vols against South Carolina totaling 15 points and 10 rebounds in the win. Fulkerson also took the charge and secured the win for Big Orange.

Grade: B

Offense

It was the tale of two shooting performances this week for the Vols offense. Tennessee shot the ball well against the Tigers but shot woefully against South Carolina.

The Vols shot 54 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3-point range as the Vols rattled in 11 3-pointers against Missouri. It was a great shooting performance for a Tennessee team that has struggled to score all year. Additionally, the Vols 69 points were the most they had scored since the Jacksonville State game.

As well as the Vols shot it at Missouri, they shot it just as bad against the Gamecocks. Tennessee shot just 26 percent from the field and 19 percent from beyond the arch against South Carolina.

Tennessee made just three more baskets against South Carolina then they did 3-pointers against the Tigers.

The one constant for the Vols offense this week was turnovers. Tennessee turned over 21 times against Missouri and 19 times against South Carolina. Tennessee was incredibly fortunate to get two wins while posting numbers like that. I’d be quite surprised if Tennessee turns over 40 times and wins two games in the same week.

Grade: C-

Defense

I’ve said it since before the season, but the Vols best way to win is to lean on its defense. No better week represents that for the Vols as Tennessee locked down two struggling offenses this week.

Tennessee’s defense looked the best it has since Lamonté Turner’s season ending surgery, holding Missouri to 59 points and South Carolina to 55 points.

The Tigers shot 35 percent against the Vols including 36 percent shooting from 3-point range. The Vols dominated on the defensive end also forcing 13 turnovers. Missouri’s 11 offensive rebounds were critical in keeping the Tigers in the game.

Tennessee forced South Carolina into 33 percent shooting from the field and 2 of 14 from 3-point range while the Gamecocks matched the Vols with 19 turnovers.

Tennessee also recorded 11 blocks against the Gamecocks making everything difficult at the basket.

Grade: A-

Bench

Tennessee’s struggles to get consistent play from its bench continued this week as freshman Davonte Gaines and Olivier Nkamhoua both failed to earn major minutes.

Nkamhoua played just seven minutes against Missouri and 10 minutes against the Gamecocks totaling just two points and two rebounds.

Gaines also had an unproductive week totaling 11 minutes while not scoring and grabbing a pair of rebounds.

Jalen Johnson saw his minutes increase rapidly this week due to some hot shooting at Missouri, but more importantly, solid defense all week. Johnson played 29 minutes and finished the game against Missouri scoring 11 points and grabbing three rebounds.

Johnson saw his shooting drop off against South Carolina, the junior shot 0 of 5 from the field, but he still earned 18 minutes off the bench.

Drew Pember also provided a spark against South Carolina playing 10 second half minutes and scoring five points.

Grade: C

Coaching

Barnes was stuck in a tough position in Saturday’s game against South Carolina. The Vols head man didn’t just have to deal with a struggling offense, but also two freshman point guards that were dealing with foul trouble.

Barnes handled the situation well as the Vols relied on defense down the stretch to secure the win.

Barnes also got unique at Missouri, playing four guards around either Fulkerson or Pons down low. The move worked well for the Vols as Tennessee was able to get four shooters on the floor.

It was a smart move by Barnes who gambled that his big men could deal with a Jeremiah Tillman-less Tiger’s frontcourt. The move paid off and Tennessee picked up its first road win of the season.

Grade: B+

Overall

It wasn’t the best week of basketball, but the Vols made two huge wins that it needed to have for its NCAA Tournament chances.

Tennessee picked up a win on the road, something that’s never going to be easy for this team, while also winning an already tough game against Frank Martin’s Gamecocks.

The week puts Tennessee at 2-1 in conference play, moving into a week with two road tests at Georgia and at a struggling Vanderbilt team.

Grade: B+

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