Tennessee Tech at Tennessee

Dec 18, 2020; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; The Tennessee Volunteers after a timeout in the second half against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles at Thompson-Boling Arena. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

No. 10 Tennessee rolled to its fourth straight win to open the season, blowing past Tennessee Tech, 103-49, in the Vols’ best offensive performance of the young season.

Tennessee Tech, a massive 29.5-point underdog, took advantage of a couple Tennessee defensive breakdowns to take a quick 6-4 lead in the game’s first two minutes. 

“Early even though I thought we were locked in and it looked good I still didn’t think we were as locked in as we need to be,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “They hit two threes early just because of poor transition defense where after we scored we weren’t getting to our men quick enough.”

The Vols wouldn’t stay down long, answering with a 17-4 run over the next six minutes. Tennessee controlled every aspect of the first half building a 49-22 lead over the visitors from Cookeville. 

Balance has been the word to describe Tennessee’s offense all season with John Fulkerson’s 15 points against Cincinnati being the Vols’ previous game high scoring performance. Jaden Springer topped that mark with a game high 21 points including 17 in the first half. 

Guards Victor Bailey Jr. and Josiah Jordan James both tied that mark adding 15 points each. Both guards did it on just eight shots with Bailey hitting both of his three point attempts and James knocking down three-of-five triples. The game marked James’ second straight performance with three made three pointers.

Springer was fantastic on the night, facilitating the ball as well as scoring it. Springer ended the night with 21 points on eight-of-10 shooting while adding six assists and six rebounds.

“He was terrific,” Barnes said of Springer. “I thought he really played within himself. I think he had a great feel for what he’s looking for. Taking care of the ball was huge, his assists were terrific, and Jaden really understands where he wants to get the ball for himself and obviously he’s a very good finisher. Mid range, close to the basket he’s great at that. He’s worked really hard on his three-point shot. … I just thought he was terrific all the way around tonight.”

The freshman from Charlotte has gotten better every game of the young season and has seen his point totals climb each contest, from six points in the opener against Colorado to 11 points against Cincinnati and 12 against Appalachian State. 

Despite Springer’s standout performance, the Vols offense remained balanced with six players scoring in double digits. In fact, Santiago Vescovi, who went scoreless on zero-of-four shooting, was the only Vol to play 20 or more minutes without scoring in double figures.

“We like it, we want to have depth,” Barnes said. “In the past we’ve had to play through one or two guys and we have different things that we can do because we do have depth. We know that we’ve got really good defensive depth. … We’ve got to continue to develop consistent offensive depth.” 

In addition to the six scorers in double digits, five Vols recorded a season high in scoring including Springer (21), Bailey (15), James (15), Keon Johnson (13) and Yves Pons (10).

“This game was real fun,” Springer said. “I think I just heard y’all say six guys scored in double digits so whenever you have games where everybody’s eating and everybody’s doing their thing that’s definitely fun because you want to see your teammates do good just as well as you want to see yourself do good.”

It was Tennessee’s best night on the offensive end in over a year, as the Vols topped 100 points for the first time since January of 2019 when they scored 106 points against Arkansas. 

Tennessee reached triple digits while hitting just nine three pointers. The Vols were incredibly efficient on offense, shooting 58% from the field and 46% from three point range. The Vols also dominated on the offensive glass, totaling 12 offensive rebounds and 18 second chance points.

The blowout win gave Rick Barnes an opportunity to tinker with different lineups including playing James at the four.

“Josiah knows our system as well as anybody from all different spots,” Barnes said. “He’s really starting to develop a high basketball IQ where you can tell him something for the first time and he can pick it up right away. … With Josiah, he allows us to do a lot of different things.” 

Friday’s win was the first of three Tennessee matchups in a six day span. The Vols will return to action Monday night when they host St. Joes to Thompson-Boling Arena. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on the SEC Network.

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