No. 8 Tennessee stayed hot against winless Saint Joseph’s on Monday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols beat the Hawks 102-66 and moved to 5-0 on the season.
Saint Joseph’s isn’t a typical winless team, they’ve played three top ten teams and have close losses to Auburn and Drexel.
Consistency continues to be the name of the game for the Vols. Tennessee once again started the starting five of Victor Bailey Jr., Santiago Vescovi, Josiah Jordan James, Yves Pons and John Fulkerson.
The move would pay dividends as the Vols would open up a 20-4 lead on the Hawks in the first half on the backs of strong defense and good offense.
Offensively, the Vols carried over the momentum they built up in their 103-49 win against Tennessee Tech in their previous game.
The Vols shot 57% from the field in the first half and shot an impressive 60% from behind the three-point line. Tennessee shared the wealth offensively as five players had seven or more points in the first half. One of the most impressive stats of the first half was the Vols ability to get to the free-throw line, they shot 19 free throws and made the Hawks pay by making 18.
Bailey Jr. was the main catalyst for the Vols offense in the first half as he finished with 13 points. He went four-of-six from the field and two-of-four from behind the three-point line. Bailey was also able to get to the free-throw line, going three-for-three.
Defensively the Vols were able to hold the Hawks stars Ryan Daly and Taylor Funk largely in check offensively. Daly went just two-of-five from the field in the first half but was able to get to the free-throw line four times and make all four to finish the half with eight points. Funk would also finish with eight points, going three of seven from the field and one of one from the line.
“We knew Saint Joseph’s was a good team who likes to shoot a lot of threes, “ E.J. Anosike on how the Vols prepared to stop Daly and the Hawks. “In practice, we focused on closing out on shooters and playing good defense and containing Ryan Daly along with all the other good players they have.”
The Vols strong offensive and defensive effort would lead to a 56-33 halftime advantage. 56 is the most points the Vols have scored in a half of basketball this season.
The second half would be more of the same for the Vols as they would come out of the locker room locked in.
Vescovi would assert himself more offensively in the second half and he would make the game his own. He scored 16 points, going four of eight from behind the three-point line and four from the free-throw line. Vescovi also played a strong team game grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists.
“I thought Santiago was really good,” Barnes said of Vescovi’s performance. “He got back to looking to shoot the ball. The more effective he is when people know he’s willing to shoot those deep bombs, the better he is as a player. He turned down a lot of shots before this game and we told him you’ve got to take them and we know overall he’s gonna make a nice percentage of them.”
The Hawks struggled with foul trouble in the second half and would go to a zone defense which would slow Tennessee momentarily but the Vols do what they’ve done all season long, turn defense into offense. The ability to play transition offense would get the Hawks out of their zone and get the Vols back to the free-throw line.
The Hawks would have three players foul out before the end of the game.
The Vols defense would still finish forcing 18 turnovers and scoring 27 points off of those turnovers. They would also be able to stay out of relative foul trouble with 22 fouls.
For the Hawks, Daly and Funk would both be held below their season totals for points per game with Daly scoring 13 and Funk scoring just 10 points for Saint Joseph’s. The 66 points the Hawks scored tonight would be the least they’ve scored all season.
The Vols finished with six players in double figures and more than 100 points in back-to-back games which is the first time Tennessee has done so since the 2006-2007 season.
“Us being consistent as a team,” Keon Johnson on the Vols key to offensive success. “ We understand that on the offensive end it’s gonna get easier but on the defensive end we’ve got to go even harder to make our offense a lot easier for ourselves.”
The Vols have a quick turnaround before Christmas break as the University of South Carolina Upstate comes to town Wednesday for a 5:00 p.m. ET tip-off on SEC Network.