After coming off of a season-opening win against Colorado, No. 12 Tennessee continued their winning ways against Cincinnati with a 65-56 win improving their record to 2-0. Cincinnati falls to 2-2 on the season.
Here are three takeaways.
Vols defense leads the way
The Vols opened the season with an impressive defensive performance against Colorado. The Vols forced 23 turnovers and held the Buffaloes to shooting just 33% from the floor and 22% from behind the three-point line for a total of 47 points.
Tennessee would continue its defensive dominance against the Bearcats on Saturday afternoon. In the first half, the Vols held the Bearcats to just 24 points and 34% shooting from the field. The Vols were also able to force 11 turnovers in the first half. The Bearcats were largely held in check in the first half outside of Jeremiah Davenport’s 11 points.
The Bearcats were able to find their footing in the second half offensively, shooting 40% from the field but big defensive blocks from Yves Pons and steals from Johnson and Vescovi would help secure the win in a game the Vols had to desperately rely on their defense.
“As a team, I feel like we can definitely be one of the best defensive teams in the nation,” Josiah James said. “We have the depth, the athleticism and the mindset to do it. We go after it every day in practice. I see it every day in practice. I feel like our mindset is to go out and guard, five guarding one, one guy guarding one on one but everyone guarding at all times. We go in with that mindset and I feel like that’s why we can guard so well and defend down the stretch so well.”
Guards continue to shine
The guards were the catalyst in the Vols win against Colorado and they once again lead the way against Cincinnati on Saturday.
Keon Johnson led the way in the first half scoring seven points, shooting two-of-four from the floor and three of four from the line. Johnson also was able to grab four rebounds.
Josiah Jordan James once again turned in a strong performance on Saturday afternoon against the Bearcats. James was able to get to the free-throw line at will and shot blank from the line while also getting Cincinnati in foul trouble. He didn’t stop there as he was able to force three steals and grab four rebounds along with dishing out three assists. He finished with eight points on the afternoon.
Jaden Springer was able to continue his progression as a Vol on Saturday. Springer scored 11 points and was also able to grab three rebounds while continuing to positively affect the game on the defensive end of the court as well.
Vols offensive woes continue
While the Vols were able to put together another solid defensive performance on Saturday, offensively the Vols struggled.
Tennessee 65 points on the day but most of their points came from the free-throw line. The Vols shot 25 of 30 from the line which was the lifeline they needed to stay in the game offensively.
The Vols only shot 19-of-59 from the field for 32% however, the worst part of their offensive game came from behind the three-point line as they were only able to muster up a 16% 3-point percentage on the game going just two-of-12 from beyond the arc.
“We turned down shots and you ask anyone in that locker room, I’m upset with guys when they don’t take open shots, ” Rick Barnes on if he would be more worried if the team was taking bad shots. “ We can rebound the ball and like the other night, we got hesitant and turned down shots. We have got to shoot it, we missed some that you know you have to make.”
“Start of the second half we were missing some, Fulky’s (John Fulkerson) two at the start of the second half weren’t great balance shots and then Cincinnati went down and made a couple of layups. I think they scored three straight layups coming out of halftime and we missed three or four. The fact is, we can not turn down open shots. These guys spend too much time in the gym working on shooting to be hesitant. You have to give credit to Colorado and Cincinnati because they’ve gone zone against us. Due to the stops and starts of COVID-19, we might have spent 15 minutes on the 1-3-1 zone. … Today, I just like that we drove the ball hard, we had some looks, we didn’t make them but we are gonna make shots. Like I told the guys, today just proves we don’t have to shoot the ball well to win games and we’ve won two basketball games against two good basketball teams without shooting the ball well.”
One bright spot for the Vols offensively was John Fulkerson who was able to find his rhythm down the stretch offensively and help put the game away. Fulkerson finished with 15 points and led the team in scoring while also leading the team in rebounds with 12.
“I think for myself and my teammates we just have to get some games in,” John Fulkerson on what the difference was for him against Cincinnati compared to Colorado. “ We just have to get some games under our belt, same team on the same bench and you just can’t simulate that in practice. With this season you don’t know who you’re gonna play, when you’re gonna play or where. You just got to get as many games under your belt as you can because that’s gonna help you when it comes to SEC play and postseason play. I think for myself and everybody we just need in-game experience playing with each other.”
Against Appalachian State and Tennessee Tech, the Vols will need to get right on the offensive end of the court as conference play is just around the corner.
The Vols are in action again on Dec. 15 when Appalachian State comes to Thompson-Boling Arena for a 7:00 p.m. ET tip-off on SEC Network.