Tennessee has proven so far this season that it can come out swinging in its games. In the first half, the Vols started the game on a 28-7 run with a ferocious defense and timely shooting.
The second half performances hadn’t yet gone as well as the first halves for the team this season. In their first two home games, the Vols didn’t close the games the way they wanted. In their only loss of the season against Villanova, the Vols squandered a double-digit halftime lead. This second-half performance on Wednesday night wasn’t pretty either, but it was enough to help the Vols defeat Mercer 84-60.
James Daniel III is the NCAA’s active scoring leader, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by the way he has played at Tennessee. That’s not a bad thing, though, as Daniel has become more of an all-around guard as he continues to put up big assist numbers. Daniel led the Vols with 10 assists and finished with nine points, falling one short of a double-double. As a team, the Vols had 26 assists on 30 made field goals, a number Rick Barnes loves to see.
“Having guys that can really make shots is just huge for us,” Daniel said. “You know when you give somebody a good pass, the bucket’s good.”
The Vols' defense came out aggressively. At times they were too aggressive, finishing the game allowing 26 free throw attempts on 23 fouls. Besides the fouls, the defense played similarly to how it has been thus far on the season. They held the Bears to 17-of-45 shooting from the field, forcing them into several last second shot attempts. Still, the free throw attempt count was a number Barnes didn't approve of.
“I’m still concerned, in fact, that almost every game this year the other team has shot more free throws and made more than we’ve shot,” Barnes said.
Bow down to Bowden:
To say Jordan Bowden has started the season off hot from the three-point range this season would be an understatement — he is torching it. Bowden scored 18 points while shooting 4-for-5 from downtown. On the season, Bowden is shooting 61 percent from three-point range.
“Just trying to stay consistent with my shot; staying in the gym and getting the reps up,” Bowden said. “They (points guards) make it real easy. Bone and J-Bird (Daniel) are really good at passing the ball, so if they see I’m hot, they’ll feed the hot hand.”
Grant Williams leading the way:
Grant Williams was taken out of the starting lineup in a preseason game, and that was something that stuck with him. So far this season, Williams has been the Vols' go-to-guy, and that didn’t change against the Bears. Williams led the Vols with 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting. He also had a plus-minus of 35 when he was on the court, which led the Vols by a mile. His biggest play came in the second half when he threw down a dunk over a Mercer defender that made Thompson-Boling Arena's crowd get louder than it has been all season.
“It’s funny because I’m not normally used to that,” Williams said. “It was more of a heat-of-the-moment thing — nothing really going through your head except making the free-throw. If you celebrate, the way you do, and you don’t make that free-throw, it’s going to look very bad.”
Home-court advantages have been sweet for the Vols this season, and they held their own on the neutral court in the Bahamas. Now they’ll head to Georgia Tech for their first road game of the season Sunday.
With the win, the Vols are now 5-1 and have a chance to crack the top 25 with a win over the Yellow Jackets Sunday.