The Tennessee Volunteers erased a nine-point halftime deficit to upset No. 15 Butler and gained their first win over a ranked opponent since 2013.
Tennessee started off the game physically like their last win against Kansas State. Kevin Punter scored the first two buckets for Tennessee on short jump shots, and the Vols’ half-court press forced early turnovers and timeouts from a rattled Butler squad.
Tennessee’s hot start was quickly put out though, as they went the last nine minutes of the first half without a field goal. They also struggled on the defensive glass by allowing 10 offensive rebounds, which lead to 9 second-chance points and happened to be the deficit that the Vols were facing at halftime.
The Vols shot 9-23 in the first half and were out-rebounded 24-12. Butler’s Kameron Woods had 11 rebounds in just the first half. Kellen Dunham had 11 points, shooting 3-8 from beyond the arc and propelling Butler to a halftime lead. Kevin Punter had 6 points on 3-4 shooting, the only bright spot in Tennessee’s first half performance.
Tennessee came out of the break ready to play though, especially star guard Josh Richardson. He scored the first 4 baskets for the Vols and cut the deficit to just 4 points. This run sparked the Vols for the rest of the game and injected Thompson-Boling arena with energy.
“Our home crowd was not going to let us lose,” said Coach Donnie Tyndall. “When you have a great homecourt advantage, you jump a little higher; you run a little faster, and that’s what happened today.”
The young Tennessee squad was able to hold their lead until the final horn, gaining Coach Tyndall’s first signature win at Tennessee. Josh Richardson scored 18 of his season-high 20 points in the second half, shooting 9-13 from the field and recording 6 steals, and Kevin Punter also had a career-high 18 points on 7-10 shooting. Armani Moore also chipped in to the winning effort with 9 points and 8 rebounds.
Butler’s Kellen Dunham cooled off in the second half, scoring only 5 points to finish with 16 points on 5-14 shooting, including 4-11 from the perimeter. Freshman Kelan Martin also had a strong contribution for the Bulldogs, scoring 13 points.
Tennessee was able to force 14 turnovers out of a tough Butler team in Tyndall’s new zone.
“We held a very efficient offense to just 33 percent shooting,” said Tyndall. “There’s a lot of complex rules to our zone. I don’t want it to seem like I created something, but we did a good job of guarding their dribble, and that’s what it comes down to.”
Tennessee started off strong and came back from halftime even stronger, lifting them to a great win thanks to their huge efforts on both sides of the floor.
“We use this term a lot, ‘let’s take their legs.’ Let’s be a second-half team, and let’s be conditioned,” said Tyndall. “We didn’t play east/west with the ball; we played what we call ‘straight-lined.’ We got straight to the rim.”
Tennessee travels to Raleigh, N.C. on Dec. 17 to take on N.C. State at 7 p.m. The Vols will then travel back to Knoxville on Friday to take on Tennessee Tech at home.
Edited by Maggie Jones