In their first true test of the season, the Vols did not disappoint. No. 7 Tennessee advanced to 7-0 on the season with a dominant 73-53 road win against No. 12 Missouri to open up the SEC portion of their schedule.
Here are three takeaways.
Vols’ defense travels
On the season the Vols have put on a masterclass defensively, holding opponents to just 52.7 points per game, 36% shooting from the field and 28% shooting from behind the three-point line.
In their first road game of the season against the Tigers, the Vols looked right at home on defense.
The Vols shot out to a hot start in the first half defensively, Missouri wasn’t able to crack the double-digit mark until almost the midway point of the first half.
“I think everyone being locked in is what helped us most,” Vescovi said on the Vols ability to start fast. “Having everyone on the same page and playing with a lot of effort and just playing hard on defense helped us.”
Missouri struggled to shoot in the first half going just 31% from the field and 14% from the three-point line.
Guard Xavier Pinson struggled to get any going from the field, he made just one shot in the first half but was able to go five of seven from the free-throw line for seven points. He would finish with 11 points total which led the tigers.
Yves Pons had a commanding performance on both ends of the court tonight. Defensively he had four blocks and two steals.
“This is what I do,” Pons said. “I play hard on defense and try to go block shots, make fix it plays. This is part of my game so I am always locked in on defense and try to do my best.”
The second half would be largely more of the same defensively.
The Vols would force 21 turnovers and held the Tigers to making just seven of their 17 layups.
Missouri would finish with just 53 on 36% shooting from the field and 18% shooting behind the three-point line for the game.
After a slow start to the Vols season offensively, they have been able to increase their field goal percentage on the season to 47% and their three-point shooting percentage to 36%.
The Vols were able to take their offensive game to another level tonight against Missouri.
Tennessee was able to shoot an efficient 50% from the floor on the night and 71% from the three-point line.
Santiago Vescovi led the Vols in scoring with 15 points while shooting five-of-seven from the field and going three-for-four from behind the three-point line.
“I really didn’t think about it, ” Vescovi on his three-point shooting. “The whole team did a really good job tonight. I was just taking wide-open shots and the team did a really good job to find me in those spots where I was wide open. We played a good game overall.”
Jaden Springer was also able to step up in a big way during his first SEC game. Springer scored 13 points, shooting 57% from the field and went one for one from the three-point range. He was also able to throw in four rebounds and three steals to his effort on the night.
One of the keys to the Vols’ offensive success and their success tonight specifically is their ability to score off of the turnovers they’ve forced. Tonight, the Vols were able to score 24 points off of the Tigers 21 turnovers.
In a season that largely hadn’t gone his way so far, Yves Pons showed the SEC why he’s still a force to be reckoned with.
Pons so far had averaged just 7.5 points on the season along with six rebounds and only had seven blocks this season.
Tonight was a complete 180 for Pons as he scored 13 points on five-of-nine shooting from the field along with going three for four from the free-throw line.
Defensively, Pons was a terror for the Tigers as he dominated above the rim with four blocks and also forced two steals. He also grabbed five defensive rebounds and six total rebounds on the night.
“Tonight, no question he looked like he was the best player on the court,” Barnes said.
The revival of Pons game is a welcomed sight for the Vols who become so much more dangerous with one of the best athletes and defenders in the nation playing at his highest level.
“I thought Yves was terrific tonight, ” Barnes said. “He is the fantastic player we know he is and he knows what we want him to be. If you could’ve heard the reception he got when he came into the locker room, it would show you the respect his teammates have for him. He’s the guy that when he plays above the rim like that and making fix it plays, he’s really good.”
The Vols are in action again on Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena when Alabama comes to town for a 6:00 p.m. ET tipoff on ESPN2.