No. 9 Tennessee continued its winning play in the SEC with a road win at Texas A&M Saturday by a score of 68-54.
The win pushes Tennessee to 9-1 on the season and 3-1 in the SEC. Texas A&M's slow start continues as they fall to 6-4 on the season and 1-3 in SEC play.
Coming off of their close win at home against Arkansas, Tennessee decided to make a change to the starting lineup.
Freshman Jaden Springer would make his first start in his collegiate career, taking the place of Keon Johnson. The rest of the lineup stayed the same.
Springer is one of the Vols’ best defenders and after having time to heal from a previous ankle injury, his insertion into the starting lineup should come as no surprise.
Santiago Vescovi was the story offensively in the first half for Tennessee.
Vescovi dominated the game early with his ability to get open behind the three-point line and knock down shots. He made four three-pointers in the first eight minutes of the game. Vescovi went four-of-five from three-point range and had 12 points in the first half which led Tennessee.
“Santiago's game today reminded of his first game against LSU last year, ” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “ He has struggled a little bit and maybe that's me asking him to do too much. He was terrific and played with confidence.”
Keon Johnson was also able to affect the game positively using his athleticism to get to the rim. He had seven points, a three-pointer and two made free throws. Johnson also had two rebounds and three assists.
While Vescovi was the only Vol in double figures, Tennessee was still able to shoot a high percentage in the first half. Tennessee shot 62.5% from the field and 50% from behind the three-point line.
The Aggies struggled to find offensive consistency to match Tennessee in the first half.
Emanuel Miller couldn’t get his offensive game going as he had just four points on two-of-seven shooting in the first half. He also had three rebounds but for the Aggies to have success they needed Miller to play to his 18.5 points per game average and in the first half, he wasn't able to do that.
Senior Savion Flagg was the main offensive threat for the Aggies in the first half. Flagg averages just seven points per game but in the first half, he was able to score nine points by going three-for-four from behind the three-point line.
In a game that was largely controlled by Tennessee early, Texas A&M was about to climb back into the game late in the first half by making five crucial three-pointers that would put them at 42% from behind the arc in the first half. The Aggies only shot 36% from the field in the first half.
Texas A&M’s late surge from the three-point line would keep the Vols close and only trail Tennessee 37-30 at half.
In the second half, Vescovi continued his offensive domination.
Vescovi had 11 second-half points and would finish with a career-high of 23 points. He also had five rebounds and three assists in the game.
“I don’t know how that happened,” Vescovi on his 23 points and six made three-pointers. “I never felt in rhythm all day. I couldn’t make anything in warmups. Then the game started and the shots just started falling. I still never felt in rhythm.”
John Fulkerson and Springer also stepped up offensively in the second half as both had just four points in the first half.
Fulkerson would finish with 11 points on four-of-seven shooting. He also had five rebounds and three blocks.
Springer finished with 10 points in his first start, going five-of-six from the field while also having six assists.
“Jaden handled himself well today and played his best game.” Barnes said.
Tennessee finished the game with 23 assists on its 27 made shots.
“That’s the way every team should play because when everybody is eating and the ball’s moving, the game is so much more fun for everybody, ” Springer said.
While Tennessee did have some offensive success against a physical Texas A&M team. The story of the second half was Tennessee’s defense.
Texas A&M shot just 29% from the field in the second half and only 22% from behind the three-point line.
Miller would have just four more points in the second half and only one rebound. He finished with eight points and four rebounds.
Quenton Jackson led the Aggies with eight points in the second half and finished with 11 points and three assists.
The efforts of Flagg and Jackson would be undone however by the team's 10 second-half turnover and would ultimately keep the Aggies from being able to climb back into the game.
Tennessee is scheduled to next take the court at South Carolina on Tuesday at 7 p.m. E.T. on ESPN2.