After a three-game winning streak in SEC play, Rick Barnes was asked if he thought his team had matured.
To the surprise of many, his answer was in the negative. He wanted to see more from his team.
After having a 20-point lead in the first half against Vanderbilt, Tennessee showed why Barnes’ answer to that question was “no,” allowing the Commodores to get within two points in the second half.
However, late in the game they also showed why he was asked that question, as they held on tightly to close out the Commodores 67-62.
“That would be a positive,” Barnes said. “They got back in the game, but at the end we found a way.”
The first half's defensive effort was one of the better defensive efforts in a half this season. The Vol’s defense suffocated the Commodores, holding them to just 15 points in the first half.
Fifteen points was the lowest amount the Vols have held an opponent to in a half since their second game of the season against High Point. They held the Commodores to 29 percent shooting from the field and eight percent from threes.
In the second half, the Vols weren’t able to replicate that effort, allowing the Commodores to shoot 49 percent from the field in the second half as Riley LaChance started to get a hot hand.
After being held scoreless in the first half, LaChance exploded for 25 points in the second half and cooled down the Vols’ defense.
“We were switching some early. I thought our post guys — Grant in particular — did a great job,” Barnes said. “Riley made a couple tough shots, too, and you got to give him credit for that.”
Lamonte Turner scored 25 points in his last outing against South Carolina but was held scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting in the first half.
With a little over a minute left, the Vols led 60-58 and were dangerously close to letting the game slip away, but Turner saved his biggest shot of the game for when the team needed it most. Turner was able to knock down a spot-up three-pointer that proved to be the nail in the coffin.
“I think it’s a deal where a kid is trying to reinvent himself as a player,” Barnes said. “We know Lamonte can score the ball, but scorers — sometimes they have it, sometimes they don’t. He knocked down a big shot.”
Seconds after Turner’s three-pointer, Admiral
Schofield and Jordan Bowden executed a perfect two-on-one fast-break to put two more points on the board and get the crowd in Thompson-Boling Arena rocking.
With the win, the Vols snapped a three-game losing streak at home to the Commodores and also secured a regular season series sweep.
After a bit of a quiet stretch, Jordan Bowden was able to get back on track, leading the Vols with 19 points while knocking down five three-pointers.
“My teammates know I can shoot the ball,” Bowden said. “They just keep telling me to shoot the ball, and I did that tonight.”
Grant Williams also added 18 points, doing most of his damage from the free-throw line. He finished 12-of-14 from the line.
After scoring a career-high 37 points in his last outing against the Commodores, the opposing team made more of an effort to bring the double teams, but Bowden's aggressiveness didn't stop.
“Either they’re going to stop fouling me, or I’m going to score,” Williams said.
The Vols are now 14-5, sitting at 5-3 in SEC play. While it got close late, the Vols showed again that they’ve gotten better at closing games. That said, Barnes isn’t ready to call this team mature just yet.
“You can’t have a junior like Admiral Schofield get a technical foul, regardless of what it is, and that be his fifth foul,” Barnes said. “Those type (of) things, we got to be more mature than that. Otherwise, I thought the last couple of minutes we knew what we were going to do.”