Takeaways from Tennessee’s exhibition win against Alabama-Huntsville

Assistant sports editor Jordan Dajani breaks down what he saw in Tennessee’s exhibition win against Alabama-Huntsville.

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While Tennessee’s men’s basketball team beat the University of Alabama-Huntsville Friday night, 96-83, new head coach Rick Barnes says that there will not be an easy game for his team this season.

Here are my takeaways from Tennessee’s exhibition game against UAH.

Offense

The ball movement looked great. You could tell Barnes put an emphasis on spreading the defense out and always being ready to hit the cutter or the man on the perimeter with a good pass.

Photo by Cody McClure
Photo by Cody McClure

Tennessee also took and made great jump shots and controlled the tempo all game on both sides of the ball. The Vols shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and 45 percent from deep. Tennessee was by no means even close to a three-point shooting team last year, but it made 10 three-pointers in just the first half. Armani Moore contributed three of them.

“Armani has been shooting better than 45 percent from deep in practice,” said Robert Hubbs III. “He really has improved.”

Yeah Robert, I would agree with that. Moore made just six three-pointers in all of last year. He had 20 points at halftime and Kevin Punter had 18.

Hubbs had been dealing with some nagging injuries, but came off the bench and looked great, scoring from inside the paint and beyond the perimeter as well. He had 11 points at halftime and was a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc. If he can hit multiple three-pointers a game, it would be huge for this offense. Tennessee needs a good player who can shoot the deep ball and spread the floor for Punter and Moore to attack the basket. Hubbs’ play really deteriorated as the night went on though. He air-balled a shot in the second half and then later hit the side of the backboard when attempting a corner three. He finished with 15 points.

Something that scared me tonight was watching Tennessee play when their leaders, Punter and Moore, were on the bench. Late in the second half when both were taking a breather, UAH went on a small run that cut into Tennessee’s lead, which showed how important these two guys are to this team on both sides of the floor. Both are top defenders for the Vols and they combined to score 56 percent of Tennessee’s total points tonight (Moore with 29 and Punter with 25). As a fan, you have to be scared if one of these guys gets into foul trouble during a game. How can this Vols team pull out a win if it is facing a formidable opponent and has to play without one of its top guys?

Another thing that scared me/I didn’t understand was Derek Reese’s performance. He only scored one basket and it came late in the second half with only five minutes remaining in the game. He did record eight rebounds, but as Tennessee’s extremely undersized center, you’re going to be expected to do a little more than that. Even Barnes commented on it after the game saying, “Reese really has to compete harder down low.”

Defense

Photo by Jordan Dajani
Photo by Jordan Dajani

Barnes used mostly man-to-man tonight. The defense did a really good job on the perimeter, but was very spotty in the post. The defense over-helped on almost every play, looking for that big block that would send the crowd into a frenzy. The interior defense also let undersized guards sneak in quite a few times for some easy layups. Along with all of this, I’m just not comfortable with the fact that Alabama-Huntsville dropped 83 points on Tennessee’s defense.

Newcomers

We didn’t get as much time as I wanted to see the freshmen play, but I was still able to come away with some thoughts about the new guys. Ray Kasongo seems like a really tough player who, in only three minutes tonight, showed that he will fight down low. He’s going to have to work on not fouling though, as he had a couple of push-offs in the first half.

Freshman Admiral Schofield played 11 minutes tonight, yet failed to score. You can tell that he’s a hard worker and gives big-time effort on both sides of the court. He could develop into something special.

Freshman Kyle Alexander played 10 minutes tonight and scored four points and grabbed five rebounds. I hope he is going to mature quickly, because he’s the tallest player on the team at 6’9″ and I’m not confident in Reese’s play down low. He may be forced to play some big minutes this season.

Freshman Shembari Phillips did not play tonight because he was late to tonight’s shootaround according to coach Barnes. Really? How can you be late to your first collegiate game? So yeah, this kid has not started off on the right foot with fans and Barnes.

Tennessee will take on UNC-Asheville in its season opener on Friday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. ET in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Edited by Cody McClure