The Tennessee men’s basketball team kick-started a brand new season at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday night.
The Vols debuted their new look in the first game of the post Admiral Schofield-Grant Williams era against UNC Asheville.
After a slow start, Tennessee (1-0) came out strong in the second half and rode the performance to a 78-63 win over the Bulldogs (0-1).
The performance wasn’t perfect, but the Vols got a little preview of their starting rotation behind the scoring of Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Yves Pons, while getting the freshmen involved in their first collegiate showing.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the win:
Upperclassmen lead offensive attack
It should come as no surprise that the bulk of Tennessee’s offensive production on Tuesday came from the group of upperclassmen.
Senior guard Lamonte Turner lead with 17 points, while junior Yves Pons was close behind with 15 points.
Senior Jordan Bowden and junior John Fulkerson both added 10 points a piece.
As a team, the Vols shot a little over 50 percent from the floor and just 35 percent from the perimeter. Of the leading scorers, Turner was the only one to hit more than one shot from beyond the arc.
“I was disappointed in our senior play,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said following the game. “We are counting on Lamonte (Turner) and Jordan (Bowden) to do a lot for us. Their shot selection is not what we want it to be from those guys.
“I think it’s up to Lamonte and Jordan both to realize that we’ve got new pieces and they need to help fit it together.”
Barnes was impressed with performance from Pons, who has had to transition to the guard position since the offseason.
Aside from Pons’ 10 points, the French national also tallied 7 rebounds.
“(Pons) is learning a new position,” Barnes said. “We’ve got to go the other way with him because of our depth upfront. He works so hard and I thought he improved a lot between our exhibition game and now.”
Slow start, strong finish
In the first half, it seemed as if every time the Vols were on the cusp of going on a run, the Bulldogs had an answer to stay within range.
Most of it was due to the sloppy play on both ends of the floor by Tennessee, who allowed 9 points from Asheville guard Lavar Batts while the turnovers continued to give the Bulldogs chances.
In the second half, the Vols’ defense tightened up, holding Batts to just two points, while forcing seven turnovers and out-rebounding Asheville’s offense, 13-6.
“Defensively, we were where we wanted to be,” Barnes said. “At the end we had a make-shift lineup out there. Yve (Pons) did some really good things. Defensively we were there. We’ll get better at doing that.”
Turnovers still a point of concern
Much like they did a week ago in an exhibition win over Eastern New Mexico, the Vols continued to struggle with holding onto the ball, particularly in the first half.
Tennessee coughed up the ball a total of 17 times in the game, 12 of which came in the first half and four of which came off of Turner.
While the Vols cleaned it up in the final 20 minutes of regulation, only turning it over five times, Barnes attributed some of those struggles to team “jitters” in their first game of the season.
“I talked about that today, I do think some of it was jitters,” Barnes said. “I told everyone to get lost in their teammates, look at them and say ‘I’m doing this for,’ instead of thinking ‘I have to go down and score.’
“You expect a little bit of that. My frustration is mostly in Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden. Last two games they’ve combined for 10 turnovers.”
Freshmen see first action
The contest marked the first collegiate action for freshmen Olivier Nkamhoua, Josiah-Jordan James and Davonte Gaines.
James, the former five-star recruit, actually debuted in the starting rotation, while Gaines and Nkamhoua saw a combined 25 minutes off of the bench.
Gaines lead the newcomers in scoring with 9 points, while Nkamhoua had seven with seven rebounds.
“He’s young,” Barnes said of Nkamhoua. “He’s a very explosive athlete that hasn’t learned how to use it yet. The game has got to slow down for him, but he’s a guy that can truly play above the rim. He’s a terrific rebounder.”
Barnes reiterated the importance of Turner and Bowden sharing the ball on the court, stating that the best way for the freshmen to improve to be trusted with the ball when the shot isn’t there for the seniors.
“If you look at the young guy’s numbers, it’s obvious they need to get the ball more,” Barnes said. “It’s up to them to let those guys get settled in. Josiah (James) is not going to get settled in until he understands our offense.
“Olivier (Nkamhoua) is going to be fine, he just needs time. Those guys need to be included in what we’re doing.”
Tennessee stays home again next week, playing host to Murray State at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Racers reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, including a win over fifth-seeded Marquette in the first round, although much of their important pieces departed in the offseason.
The Vols will tip-off against Murray State on Nov. 5 at 8 p.m. with the game slated to appear on SEC Network plus.