Long before the first dribble of the regular season, Tennessee junior guard Jordan Bone had a chip on his shoulder.
That was never more evident than when the third-ranked Vols looked to carry on their four-game win streak on Wednesday as they hosted the Samford Bulldogs. The junior guard scored a season-high in both points (24) and assists (11) as Tennessee overcame a barrage of runs on both sides to capture its fifth-consecutive win.
Admiral Schofield tallied 18 points and seven rebounds, and Grant Williams added 16 points for the Vols as they continue to breeze through non-conference play.
“We were trying to go inside early and (Bone) did a great job of attacking,” head coach Rick Barnes said. “He played well...he really was good tonight.”
Ruben Guerrero was the leading man for Samford, recording 16 points and eight rebounds on 5 of 10 shooting.
Here are three takeaways from Wednesday night’s game:
Bone breaks out
Coming into Wednesday, Bone hadn’t logged a 20-point outing since Dec. 23, 2017, when he tallied 21 against Wake Forest.
Any doubts regarding his scoring ability were quickly swept aside throughout the opening 20 minutes.
Notching 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting, the Nashville native toyed with the Bulldogs defense as Tennessee found itself trailing for a sizeable chunk of the opening half. It wasn’t the scoring that caught the former Ensworth School star’s attention following the game, though.
“The ultimate goal as a point guard is to get to my spots and make it easier for my teammates,” Bone said. “It definitely felt good to get a career-high in assists.”
Despite taking just six shots in the second half, Bone continued to masterfully run Tennessee’s offense to the tune of five assists during the span.
As a team, the Vols finished with 22 assists on 33 made baskets.
A game of runs
Fans of back-and-forth affairs were in for a holiday treat on this go-around, and not the chocolate kind that rots teeth.
A quality offensive team with productive guard play, Samford jumped out to an early advantage as it knocked down six of its opening 11 field goals.
Responding quickly with an 8-0 run of their own, the Vols reclaimed the lead, despite shooting just 41 percent from the field out of the gates.
With that being said, offense was the least of their concerns as they traded blows with the Bulldogs.
“We didn’t really talk much about our offense, it was mostly about our defense,” Williams said. “Giving up sloppy turnovers and wide open threes, that’s not the defensive team that we are.”
Samford wasn’t done there, one-upping the Vols with a quick 12-0 spurt that put Tennessee in its largest home deficit of the season, albeit a short-lived one.
Capping off the opening period with a 21-4 stretch of their own, Tennessee quickly cast aside any doubt as they pulled ahead and never looked back.
Pounding the paint
Reminiscent of basketball in the previous century, Tennessee shied away from launching the three at a high volume, despite it being a strength for the Vols as of late.
Totaling 52 points in the paint, the Vols found themselves with a freeway to the basket for much of the night.
Tennessee shot 16 of 19 on layups and dunks, accounting for 40 percent of their total scores (including free throws) as they toyed with the Bulldogs’ interior defense.
“That’s what we want to use to break a game open, establishing what we want to do inside,” Barnes said. “We worked to get it in there...we wanted to make (Guerrero) and (Sharkey) guard.”
While his team made a living in the paint, the veteran coach didn’t mince words when discussing the minor role the three-point shot played in Wednesday’s contest.
“They would’ve been very happy if we’d fallen in love with the three early,” Barnes said.