Vescovi vs. FGCU

KNOXVILLE, TN - Tennessee Guard Santiago Vescovi (25) during the game against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles at Thompson-Boling Arena on Nov. 16, 2022.

The Vols bounced back in a big way against Florida Gulf Coast, defeating them 81-50. The way that the team addressed its faults from Sunday versus Colorado was a very promising sign moving forward in this young season.

It was an all-around good performance against a team that Tennessee should take care of, putting the Vols back in the win column.

Here’s how the Vols graded out in a blowout win.

Backcourt

After a subpar performance against Colorado, the Vols’ backcourt played well on Wednesday. Head coach Rick Barnes was very critical about this group on Sunday, and everything he said went wrong for this group seemed to be fixed.

Exhibit A? Senior guard Santiago Vescovi, who finished the night with eight points, six boards, three assists and three steals. He did a little bit of everything and looked comfortable doing it. It was a tale of two games from Sunday to Wednesday. Against the Buffaloes, Vescovi wasn’t shooting well and let it roll into the rest of his game as he spiraled out of control. This time, he was hitting shots and playing with confidence and poise. As Vescovi’s shooting cooled down as the game went on, he kept the rest of his game sharp.

Josiah-Jordan James was good as always in his first game back in the starting lineup, tying the team-high in scoring with 18 points. He played most of his minutes in the first half, and that’s where he did the most of his damage.

Sophomore Jahmai Mashack showed off his talents in the win, as well. Though he is generally a defensive specialist, Mashack was the offensive spark in the second half when a thunderous dunk led to the lead being slowly put out of reach. Fellow sophomore Zakai Zeigler played well, too. Despite a rough shooting night, his energy was felt from the moment he stepped on the floor.

The backcourt did everything, even rebounding. The group combined for 26 on the boards, accounting for over 50% of the team’s total.

It was a good outing from this group, but foul trouble was a bit of an issue and slightly brings down the grade of the backcourt.

Grade: B+

Frontcourt

Two words: Olivier Nkamhoua. He was brilliant as he moved down to the five spot in Uros Plavsic’s absence. Nkamhoua had 18 points and his mobility down low certainly stood out. Even when he wasn’t scoring, he consistently provided the offense with spacing and opened up driving lanes for the rest of the team.

Freshman Julian Phillips was no slouch either. In just his third game, he put his superior length on display. He made just one field goal, but his ability to get to the paint and to the line was elite. He finished with 11 points, five rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal. He will only get better as the season goes on.

Grade: A

Offense

The Vols’ offense played much faster and more comfortably than it had just three days before. The backcourt rebounding allowed Tennessee to get in transition at a blistering rate. It is unclear how that will translate to tougher teams on the glass, but the backcourt crashing the glass is the key to how Barnes’ wants his offense to run.

The Vols shot a respectable 49% from the field and 40% from three. The free-throw shooting could still use some work, but the effectiveness of which they got to the line is worth noting.

Grade: B+

Defense

The defense that came on the floor was suffocating. At the beginning of the game, the offense took a bit to get going, but the defense kept strong and stayed strong as the offense came to form.

Vescovi set the tone with three early steals and the rest of the team followed suit. The defense forced 17 turnovers and scored 20 points off of them.

The Vols did not allow a single field goal in the final 6:30 of the first half, allowing them to pull away and build a sizable lead into the break.

Grade: A-

Coaching & Overall

FGCU is a team that the Vols should have no trouble with, and that was the case. However, in a sport filled with madness, any win is a good win.

The way Barnes is able to work the game plan to fit his players’ strengths is matched by few. The adjustments made following a disappointing loss was impressive.

Barnes led a smaller lineup into the game and it performed very well. He preached fast offense heading into the year and Nkamhoua at the five could be the answer. That’s not to say there’s no room for Plavsic on the court, but it should be worth noting.

The Vols now have something to build upon heading into a trip to the Bahamas next week

Grade: A

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