Tennessee picked up its 20th win of the season Tuesday, knocking off Missouri 80-61 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri.
The Vols improved to 11-4 in the SEC with the victory, getting back on the right track after dropping an ugly contest to Arkansas last Saturday. The Vols were led by a strong performance from freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler, who dropped a personal SEC-high 23 points with 8 rebounds, 6 assists and zero turnovers.
Here are three takeaways from Tennessee’s fifth road win of the season.
Kennedy Chandler dazzles
Kennedy Chandler was taking control of last Saturday’s game before a charge call handed him his third personal foul as time expired in the first half.
The former five-star recruit simply wasn’t the same in a limited role following the foul. He played careful, and that showed – he scored just two points more after dropping nine in the first 20 minutes.
But Chandler picked up right where he left off in the first half against Arkansas against the Tigers, leading all scorers with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the first half.
He continued that trend in the second half, adding nine more points to finish with a personal conference play-high of 23 points.
“I though his pace was really good, I thought defensively, he’s pushed up,” Head coach Rick Barnes said. “…I do think that Kennedy was spot on in the balance in his game that we need him to have.”
The Vols' dynamic duo of Chandler and Zakai Zeigler on the court at the same time has been close to unstoppable this season for conference guards. Chandler is really in his element playing with a counterpart that has as much speed and knowledge of the game as he, a notion that has been proven in their time sharing the court - especially with scoring in mind.
It was Chandler’s season-high of 27 points against Colorado that had acted as an apex for his play until this point in the season. Barnes feels he is getting back into the groove of things and is starting to truly round his game into form.
“It’s night and day difference,” Barnes said. “I told him before in some ways it was a curse (scoring 27 so early in the season.) because it looked so easy for him early in the year. I think he went out thinking every game was going to be like that and he really struggled at times after that game.”
Chandler’s efficiency was what jumped out to himself Tuesday night in perhaps his most complete performance of the year.
“Coaches keep telling me, even though I'm open, don't settle,” Chandler said. “Coach Barnes has really talked to me about knowing where my hot spots are... I wasn't trying to settle today.”
The Victor Bailey Jr. game
Victor Bailey Jr. entered the game against Missouri in the middle of a rough slump.
His season-high of 14 points against Presbyterian was not reflective of what he knew he was capable of, and it showed in his 3-point shooting splits. His 34% shooting from deep in 2021 was followed by a 21% reality heading into Tuesday evening.
Bailey Jr. hadn’t made a three since Tennessee’s first outing against South Carolina in early January, a truth not exactly favorable for a player that is supposedly known for his catch-and-shoot abilities.
So, his 5-of-8, 11-point performance against the Tigers was just what the doctor ordered to contribute to his confidence and helping his team win games.
“I’m trying to do a better job this year of trying to keep a level head,” Bailey said. “It’s definitely good to hit some shots, good to see some shots go. Like I’ve said, my focus is helping this team win, if it's making shots, hope I can knock some down. It’s making tough plays, diving on the floor, whatever it takes.”
Freshmen frontcourt doing work down low.
The former five-star duo of Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and Jonas Aidoo had solid performances against the Tigers.
Both freshmen looked like they belonged in a time where Barnes needs their production more than ever. The frontcourt rotation has struggled ever since Olivier Nkamhoua was declared out for the season following an injury sustained against South Carolina.
The pair have shown flashes of potential in replacing that production come March, combining for 11 points, 11 rebounds and just two turnovers Tuesday night against the Tigers.
The future of Tennessee basketball seems, for now, to be in good hands. Though neither Aidoo nor Huntley-Hatfield have shown enough efficacy to earn big-time minutes on the court against SEC-level opponents quite yet, the freshman class, in a combined effort, has shown Barnes no reason to the contrary.
Just after the under 12 timeout, Barnes ran a lineup featuring four freshmen and Bailey that catapulted Tennessee’s lead to six – one that set a heading for where the direction the game was trending.
Tennessee took a 10-point lead late in the first half and never looked back.
“That’s exciting,” Chandler said. “You don’t see four freshmen, as long as I’ve been here, on the court together. It’s just us playing together, I don’t think all four of us have played together so that’s just amazing.”
“Just building our chemistry up some more because in practice we always go against each other. …We have to continue to get better, learn from this game and get ready for Auburn on Saturday.”