Tennessee knocked off Tennessee Tech 80-69 Friday night, but it did not look like the nation’s No. 15 team as it did so.
The Vols were missing key pieces and struggled to shoot behind the three-point line. Tennessee Tech led at the half, and the Vols mounted a second-half comeback before they rounded into form late.
Tennessee's head coach Rick Barnes attributed the slow start to a poor practice the day before.
“I don't want to take anything away from them because they certainly outplayed us,” Barnes said. “From our perspective, not real happy at all. This game normally gives you what you put into it, and the preparation with some of our younger guys yesterday wasn't what it needed to be. It showed up here in the first half, but with that said, in the long run it was probably a better thing for us because we're going to be in many more games where it's going to be close.”
“We're going to have to really fight for it. As opposed to where I think these type games people expect to win by a large number.”
The Vols’ opponent was a sub-500 Tennessee Tech team, and with the expectation that they should beat the Golden Eagles by 25+ points, Tennessee’s freshmen did not take practice as seriously as they should have. The result showed come game time.
Tennessee shot 26% from three-point range — its second-lowest percentage of the season. The Vols committed 12 turnovers as a team. True freshman Kennedy Chandler had 4 of them, a game-high.
“I think with young guys, it’s part of the growing process,” Barnes said on the struggles. “You have to be ready to play every night. When you let another team, your opponent — regardless of who it is — come in, get comfortable and get some momentum going, you’ve got to fight like crazy and that’s what we had to do today. We had to fight hard to get control of the game. But we have a ways to go.”
The Vols will look to change their approach against Presbyterian. That’s the reason why Barnes schedules games against these teams — to show that preparation matters and anything can happen in college basketball.
“That's why we've always tried to schedule in our buy games teams that we know that are well-coached and are going to really compete,” Barnes said. “We want to get a lot out of it. We definitely got a lot out of this game. We learned a lot about ourselves, some of it not so good. Overall, the way we responded when we had to was a good thing.”
Presbyterian is off to a fast start in 2021 with a 5-2 record four weeks in. Despite the record, Presbyterian has not played its best basketball. The Blue Hose’s two losses were against the two Power 5 schools they played, and they won the other five games by an average of 4.2 points, including a pair of overtime wins.
Sophomore guard Rayshon Harrison leads Presbyterian in scoring with 21.3 points and 2.4 assists per game and is second on the team with 5.4 rebounds per game. Harrison was the 2021 Big South Freshman of the Year, and his 22.2 points per game are 10th in Division I.
Presbyterian is not an opponent the Vols can underestimate. It’s a well-coached team under third-year coach Quinton Ferrell. Tennessee’s practice the day before the game will be telling of how things might go when it steps on the court come game time. It will be up to Tennessee’s veteran players to show their younger teammates what proper preparation looks like.
“I think that it's something that even myself I struggle with,” the Vols’ sixth-year senior John Fulkerson said. “Just coming in every single day and trying to get better every day is something that is not an easy task. Just staying locked in everyday, trying to get better every day, working hard every single day is something that even myself is still trying to do and prefect. I think that starts with me and the other veterans on this team and it'll carry down to the young guys.”