Santiago Vescovi and Rick Barnes- Colorado at Tennessee

Dec 8, 2020; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Rick Barnes speaks with guard Santiago Vescovi (25) during the second half against the Colorado Buffaloes at Thompson-Boling Arena. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee men’s basketball opened the regular season with a win against Colorado in Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols beat the Buffaloes by a score of 56-47.

The Vols opted to go with the veteran starting lineup of Victor Bailey Jr., Santiago Vescovi, Josiah Jordan James, Yves Pons and John Fulkerson to bring stability to the start of the game. 

The veteran stability showed clearly on the defensive side of the court as the Vols were able to set the tone early. 

The Vols held the Buffaloes to just 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the game. The Vols forced seven turnovers while scoring six points off of the turnovers and holding the Buffs to four-of-15 shooting from the floor. 

Offensively in the first half, the Vols were led by redshirt junior Victor Bailey. Bailey led the Vols in scoring with an efficient eight points. Bailey shot 60% from the field and 50% from behind the three-point line. 

Defensively Bailey guarded senior Colorado guard McKinley Wright for most of his 18 first-half minutes. Wright scored six points, Bailey largely held Wright in check. 

“I was proud of VJ,” Barnes said of his junior guard Victor Bailey Jr. “He’s always been more of an offensive player. I thought he did a nice job at the start of the game on Mckinley Wright who’s arguably one of the best players in the Pac-12 and one of the best players in the country. I thought VJ set a really good tone and made him work. He finally got it going offensively a little bit after that…” 

Colorado would make a late 12-2 run in the first half which was a product of their stifling zone defense to cut the Vols lead to 28-24 but a late Vescovi three-pointer would give the Vols a 31-24 lead at halftime. 

The Buffs came out of the gates hot in the second half and cut the Vols lead to just two points. However, a needed burst of energy came from freshman guard Keon Johnson who entered the game and forced a turnover from Wright and then followed it up with an alley-oop slam on the offensive end of the court, the former five-star recruits first basket. 

Vescovi continued his impressive game for Vols in the second half by making multiple plays on the defensive end of the court and taking a blow to the face while trying to make a play defensively. Vescovi made three of his four three-point attempts. He would finish with 11 points. 

Jeriah Horn would be the Buff's main offensive threat in the second half as he shot 50% from the field and from behind the three-point line. Horn scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in his team-leading performance. 

McKinley Wright would be held to just two second-half points and eight points overall against Bailey and the Vols defense. The star guard entered the matchup averaging 22 points a game this season.

Horn’s performance, however, wouldn't be enough as the Vols freshman guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson would help the Vols finish off the game with multiple defensive plays while scoring six and four points respectively. 

“That’s what they do, they really are good at ball-hawking.”Barnes said of his two freshman guards. “They’ll get in there and we talk about tackling the ball and getting the guy in your grasps and trying to take the ball away from him, both of those guys have that ability. I thought Jaden was good, he missed Friday’s workout because he wasn’t feeling well. He came back and I thought impacted the game.”

“Both of them made one big mistake that they have to get out of when they turn it over they can’t let the ball get behind them and Colorado did and scored. Defensively they can play but between them, they had seven turnovers, five were Keon and two were on Jaden. That’s the biggest we talk with them about at practice, they’re both too good offensively to turn it over the way they do. Defensively I thought Jaden was good and Keon had his moments too but he also had some bad moments where he turned it over and then panicked and threw it away again. Those guys will be fine because they’re competitive. They were hurt by the shutdown more than anyone, they were getting into a good groove and then missed two weeks, they were probably affected by it more than anybody.”

The Vols will be in action again on Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena when they welcome Cincinnati to town for a 12:30 p.m. ET tip on the SEC Network Alternate Channel.

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