This was a solid conference win over a decent Tennessee team. We struggled a bit in the first half, mainly because we could not make a layup. In fairness, while we missed a lot of close range shots, many of those were altered and taken under pressure in traffic. I would like to see us pull up and take a few more mid range jump shots rather than trying to force the ball down to the low block every possession. Cooper seems to be developing a nice mid range game that should help our offensive production.
Also, Releford was a completely different player in the second half. He seemed tentative in the first half and made little effort to penetrate. In the second half, he took the ball to the basket and was able to finish more times than not. Our scoring was very balanced with both Trevors scoring 15 each, Levi adding 12 and Andrew Steele coming off the bench to give us 11.
Nick Jacobs had a solid game offensively and Moussa Gueye played adequate defense for the most part, but as will be the case most games, we lost the battle in the paint. We were badly out rebounded and outscored down low. Despite our inability to get a rebound or make a layup, we were in position to tie the game going into the half with Trevor Lacey at the line for a one and one. He missed the front end, then fouled the UT shooter throwing up a prayer 40 feet from the basket at the buzzer to give the Vols 3 free throws. The Vols led 28-24 at the half. Those are the kinds of mistakes we can't have at the end of the half. To his credit, Lacey kept his head up and played a great second half.
I thought Coach Grant did a great job of switching defenses and wisely choosing when to press. We were able to force a lot of turnovers and create easy baskets at key times, which is why we were able to overcome our rebounding and post play deficiency. Coach Grant even did a good job of managing his timeouts, never allowing UT to go on too long of a run.
The most encouraging thing about this game to me is that we showed some poise and determination down the stretch in doing the things necessary to win a close game. We were down 3 with about 5 minutes to go, but switched to a press with a hard trap as soon as the ball came into the front court. We forced 4 straight turnovers and went on a 10-0 run. We did this by out hustling them for several loose balls created by the defense. Tennessee called timeout and made a run to get back into the game, but we came up with stops when we had to, and most importantly, converted our free throws.
It was one of the most entertaining games of the season thus far, with the score being close and lead going back and forth throughout. It was also the best crowd of the season. I would guess over 10,000 were there, including at least 500 or so Tennessee fans scattered throughout. The crowd was loud and very much into the game, especially the last few minutes.
Up next, we go to Starkville, MS for an 8pm tipoff against the Mississippi State Bulldogs Wednesday night. State has losses to Alabama A&M, Providence, Loyola-Chicago, and Troy. However, they are currently on top of the SEC standings at 2-0 with wins over Georgia and South Carolina. The SEC is really bad this year, folks. The game will be televised on CSS.