Tennessee went on the road to the Lone Star State Saturday and turned in a complete performance, leading Texas A&M from start to finish in a 68-54 victory.
The Vols backcourt got in done in Reed Arena with Santiago Vescovi going for a career high and the freshmen duo giving Tennessee a complete performance.
Here are three takeaways.
Vescovi gets it going
Sophomore guard Santiago Vescovi was entering Saturday coming off two of his worst performances of his young career in a win over Arkansas and loss to Alabama.
The Uruguay native bounced back strongly in the Lone Star State, specifically to start the game where he scored 12 points on four-of-four shooting from three-point range in the first eight minutes.
“It was really important,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “It really reminded me of his first game here when he walked off the floor of two days' practice against LSU and he came out and hit some shots like that.”
Vescovi slowed down after his red-hot start, but remained dialed in as he went for a team, and career high, 23 points in the win.
Vescovi was efficient offensively, making eight-of-13 attempts from the field and six-of-10 from three-point range despite his shooting struggles continuing into warm ups.
“Today, I was not feeling that good in terms of rhythm,” Vescovi said. “I really don’t know what happened today. I was shooting in the warmup and couldn’t make shots and then I just got in the game and they started falling so I just started taking opportunities.”
The lefty also added five rebounds and three assists to just one turnover.
Freshmen not flashy, but really good
Well, there was a little bit of flash from Bell Buckle, Tennessee native Keon Johnson. See below.
Overall though, Johnson and Jaden Springer’s stat lines don’t blow you away. Springer barely reached double figures, scoring 10 points, and Johnson totaled seven points in just 19 minutes as he dealt with foul trouble.
It’s when you look closer at the duo’s performance when you realize how good they were on the afternoon.
The duo combined to shoot seven-of-nine from the field as each missed one shot each.
Springer made five-of-six shot attempts while adding a spectacular six assists, many of which led to easy layups or dunks. The Charlotte native wasn’t without flaws though, turning it over six times as well.
“I thought he was really solid defensively and he’s going to learn so much as he continues to go,” Barnes said of Springer. “These next couple of weeks are going to be huge for him, Keon (Johnson) and the other guys that we get out there. These minutes are really valuable. Jaden handled himself really well today. He’s a really gifted player, certainly offensively. I think he’s deceptive in what he does. He made a great pass. We ran a little set to get he and Fulky (John Fulkerson) down there in a two-man game. He made a great pass to Fulky. Fulky missed the dunk but that was a great pass. That’s talent – seeing it and making the play.”
Johnson also made just his third three-pointer of the season, something he needs to do to reach his potential. In addition, Johnson tallied three rebounds, three assists and just one turnover.
The nine combined assists matching the nine combined shot attempts shows just how selfless these two freshmen are and how good of passers they are. The good passing and selfless play was on display from all Vols today with UT assisting on 23 of 27 made baskets.
“That’s the way every team should play,” Springer said. “When everyone is out there eating, the ball is moving, the game is easier and it's so much fun. You’re scoring, you can see your teammates score and everyone is out there having a good time.”
Odds and ins
For Texas A&M to upset No. 9 Tennessee it felt like they’d have to do three things.
First, dominate the offensive glass like they did a season ago in Knoxville. Secondly, they’d have to limit the turnover disparity in both team’s averages. Finally, it felt like the Aggies needed a big game from star Emanuel Miller.
Let’s start with the rebounding. Texas A&M was effective here, grabbing 14 offensive rebounds on its way to out rebounding the Vols, 31-23.
Tennessee did a good job of limiting the Aggies to just 10 second chance points and compared to the 23 offensive rebounds Texas A&M had last season, Barnes wasn’t too displeased with the effort.
“We knew coming in that a big part of Texas A&M’s game was rebounding,” Barnes said. “We knew that we were going to have to do different things. … I think our guys battled. We gave up two to start the game that we weren't really happy about, but overall, I do think your guys fought against the team that does an unbelievable job of rebounding the ball.”
Entering Saturday’s game, Tennessee turned it over less than any other team in the conference while Texas A&M turned it over the third most.
Texas A&M did a good job of limiting turnovers in the first half (four) and using its zone press to force Tennessee to an uncharacteristically high (11) turnovers. However, the Aggies got sloppy with the ball in the second half, turning it over 11 times.
Finally, Tennessee shutdown Miller, holding the 18.5 point per game scorer to just eight points on three-of-eight shooting.
Tennessee is set to travel to Columbia, South Carolina Tuesday to take on the Gamecocks. COVID-19 concerns currently have South Carolina on pause, putting Tuesday’s game in danger.
Due to current COVID-19 concerns at Missouri, it's possible Tenenssee will play Vanderbilt Tuesday instead of South Carolina. We’ll keep you updated on the situation at utdailybeacon.com