Big performances lift Tennessee over UNC-Asheville, 82-78

In the first game of the 2015 season, Tennessee basketball was able to come away with a victory, 82-78.

KNOXVILLE,TN - DECEMBER 29, 2015 - Tennessee Volunteers Head Coach Rick Barnes during the game between the Tennessee State Tigers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Matthew R. Osborne/Tennessee Athletics

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It wasn’t easy, but the Vols got the job done.  In a close, hard-fought game, Tennessee came away with a victory over UNC-Asheville on Friday night, 82-78.

Tennessee started the contest strong with a 7-0 run, but the Bulldogs soon found rhythm, as they went on a 16-9 run to tie the game midway through the first half. Throughout the first half, Tennessee’s struggled for the most part. UNC-Asheville’s defense frustrated the Vols, forcing them to take several poor shots.

The Bulldogs also dominated Tennessee on the glass, finishing the first half with a 23-13 advantage in rebounds. Due to mistakes and turnovers by UNC-Asheville, Tennessee was able to keep it close and went into the break with a 34-33 lead. Kevin Punter was the leading scorer for Tennessee at the break with 13 points. Asheville’s Will Weeks had 12.

The second half was just as close as the first. Although the Vols rebounded much better in the second half, outdoing Asheville 20-10, the defense continued to struggle and the offense looked sloppy.

Photo by Cody McClure
Photo by Cody McClure

Head coach Rick Barnes wasn’t pleased with either side of the ball. “We don’t have an attitude. That pride you need, we don’t have that on the defensive end yet,” said Barnes. “We didn’t protect the ball particularly well in the second half.”

Despite the issues, Tennessee took the lead, 36-35, with approximately 19 minutes left in the game. The Vols would not give up that lead until a pair of Dwayne Sutton free throws gave the Bulldogs a 65-63 edge with five minutes remaining.

Punter and Moore stepped up and made big plays for Tennessee in the closing minutes. “I don’t think there’s any doubt KP [Punter] and Armani [Moore] are competitors,” said Barnes.

With just under 90 seconds to play, Robert Hubbs III recorded an important block that led to a Punter layup, giving the Vols a 76-72 lead. However, Hubbs III landed awkwardly and grasped his left leg. He was then carried off the court, unable to put any weight on his left leg. As it turned out, the seemingly-serious injury was only a cramp.

Tennessee was able to close out the game with free throws, securing the 82-78 win. The team was led by Punter, who had a career night, scoring 31 points on 10-14 shooting. He was 3-6 from beyond the arc.

Moore also played a big role in the Vols’ win, registering 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Before the injury, Hubbs III played well, finishing with 18 points on 8-12 shooting.

Tennessee also witnessed the emergence of a possible key player in Jabari McGhee. McGhee contributed some vital plays, finishing with nine points and six rebounds.

For the Bulldogs, Weeks was their best player. He ended the game with 25 points.

Tennessee shot over 52 percent for the night, but the Vols were only 25 percent beyond the arc. In its exhibition game against Alabama-Huntsville, Tennessee hit 13 three-pointers. All in all, the Vols made their coach happy with a debut win.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the University of Tennessee,” said Barnes.

Tennessee takes on Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Monday night at 7 p.m. ET.

Edited by Cody McClure

Featured image by Matthew R. Osborne, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics