No. 20 Tennessee welcomes Alabama State to Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday night as the Vols look to improve on their 3-0 start to the season.
Alabama State has struggled out of the gates, losing its first three games. The Hornets have played some quality opponents including No. 8 Gonzaga, Houston and Missouri State.
The Hornets are coached by Lewis Jackson who is in his 14th season at Alabama State. Jackson has had high levels of success in Montgomery, but the Hornets have struggled in recent seasons and haven’t recorded a winning record since the 2014-15 season.
“Well coached, very good post presence,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said when asked about the Hornets. “A team that’s gonna look to really go inside and score against us. A team that will show you some multiple defenses and can show you a little three-quarter court trap.”
The Hornets are led in minutes and scoring by Tobi Ewuosho. The senior from Chicago has doubled his scoring averages from last season and scores 14 points per game while grabbing five rebounds.
Alabama State has a deep bench playing 10 guys over nine minutes a game and no one plays more than 28 minutes a game.
Tennessee’s bench has been as short this season as it has at any time since Barnes has been in Knoxville.
The Vols played just seven players in their win over No. 20 Washington and the Vols five starters all played 30 minutes or more.
“It had a lot to do with the flow of the game,” Barnes said. “We know we have to get our bench ready. We know that. But we felt like we had to get at least two of these guys coming on really quick with us, and I thought both Olivier (Nkamhoua) and Josiah (James) both did a great job in the time that they were out there. But we know that we have to continue to develop our bench.”
Wednesday’s matchup with the Hornets could present Barnes with the opportunity to get young players like Davontae Gaines and Drew Pember some playing time as Tennessee hopes they can give them reliable minutes later in the season.
Additionally, Lamonté Turner continues to deal with a shoulder injury. While it is doubtful Tennessee will sit the senior point guard out it could be a good time to lessen his minutes after Turner played 39 minutes against both Murray State and Washington last week.
As strong as Tennessee’s performance was against Washington, Barnes still sees plenty for the Vols to work on as they prepare for the Hornets and the rest of the non-conference slate.
“We know we still have to get better defensively,” Barnes said. “Transition defense was terrible. … You could tell in transition guys were casually saying ‘get my man,’ as opposed to working theirs, and maybe fatigue had a little bit to do with that.”