In its loss to No. 8 Stanford earlier in the week, Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick and the players contributed the loss to an effort problem. Three days later, it was clear that the problem did not persist.
Behind a total team effort that included a season-high 20 assists, the Lady Vols used a big run in the second half to top the ETSU Buccaneers, 80-61, continuing the program’s dominant run versus in-state schools. The record now stands at 243-60-1 all-time.
“There was a big, big difference in our effort tonight,” Warlick said. “I thought tonight we had really, really good energy. I liked our aggressiveness. There’s a lot I want to take away from this game.”
Senior guard Meme Jackson made a three-pointer from the corner, her first of seven on the night, on Tennessee’s second offensive possession to open up a quick 9-0 run. But what would end up being the trend through the first half, the Bucs had enough answers to keep the Lady Vols from opening up the game and running away with it.
“They were an up tempo team,” Warlick said. “I thought our defense was up and down, but our defense has suffered just because we haven’t had the opportunity to work on it because of exam week and because we’ve been limited in what we can and can’t do.”
After pulling the game within 10 at 38-28 at the half, both teams traded baskets through most of the third quarter.
The second half began with a three-pointer from sophomore guard Rennia Davis, but ETSU clapped back with one themselves to make it 41-31.
The Buccaneers got as close as eight points before the Lady Vols put together their first commanding run since the first quarter, which began with a block by freshman guard Jazmine Massengill on one end of the floor, followed by a Jackson three on the other.
Tennessee outscored ETSU 24-16 in the third quarter to grab their largest lead of the game, 62-44 heading into the final period.
Freshman forward Mimi Collins, who had a career-high 11 points, credits the change in play to a coaching decision by Warlick to change the tempo of the game for the Lady Vols.
“I think she went with our straight pressing type defense,” Collins said. “She wanted to go with a smaller group and she wanted the tempo and energy that we have. That’s what we did. We picked up our tempo and it worked.”
The onslaught continued in the fourth with freshman guard Zaay Green scoring her first three of the game to go ahead by 23 points.
As the fourth quarter wore on, the Buccaneers were able to to respond to Jackson and the rest of Tennessee’s suddenly hot-handed offense. By that point however, the Lady Vols had put them in a hole too deep to get themselves out of and Tennessee was able to close out the game with solid defense to win comfortably.
Tennessee’s defense was dominant the entire game. Lead by Massengill, who finished with five blocks, the Lady Vols grabbed 33 defensive rebounds, blocked 10 shots and snagged 6 steals.
Massengill was tops in all three of those categories, making her performance a benchmark in her young career.
“(Massengill) is a great leader,” Warlick said. “Those are things that she has been capable of doing. She felt good tonight, she was healthy. I thought she did a great job of leading her team.”
But Massengill was not the only Lady Vol to have a career outing. Jackson reached a milestone of her own behind 23 points, 21 of which came from beyond the arch. In fact, of the team’s 9-made three pointers, 7 of them came off the hands of Jackson, coming up just one short of tying a program record.
“Meme (Jackson) has been in the gym all summer,” Warlick said. “When you do that, you get confidence and make shots. I think she has a lot of confidence. She shot the ball well tonight. She didn’t force it and her teammates got her the ball.”
According to Jackson, she too credits the extra time put in outside of practice to what is becoming a very successful senior campaign.
“My time is kind of limited here,” Jackson said. “I just want to go out there and play hard every time I step on the court. I’ve had a lot of time put in, in the gym with coach Dean (Lockwood). A lot of it just comes with communication.”
Tennessee will look to wind-down non-conference play following the holidays with a match up against Murray State on Dec. 28 at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.