No. 21 Tennessee passes another tough test from mid-major Furman

The Vols survived another tough test from a mid-major program on Wednesday night and now look forward to one more game before conference play.

The Tennessee Volunteers (8-2) took down the Furman Paladins (9-4) in a sluggish Wednesday night game. The Vols came out slow, but from a spark by Jordan Bowden that carried throughout the game, they closed out a solid mid-major team in Furman.

Barnes didn’t believe a North Carolina hangover was what was stopping the Vols tonight, but careless play and missing easy baskets against a good team from the SoCon was the issue tonight.

“Grant missing easy baskets early … Admiral came back at the end (of the game), he got a little careless in the open court because he was playing at a speed he can’t play at,” Barnes said. “But his rebounding and his energy, it was there. Our guards weren’t very good (tonight).”

The Vols were continuously tested by Knoxville native and current Furman point guard Devin Sibley, but the Vols proved resilient by taking each blow and answering it with their own.

Sibley scored 22 points on the night and led all scorers. Sibley was the talk of the crowd throughout the second half of the game, as fans who watched Sibley in high school were in the stands cheering him on. Some even predicted he would have an interesting return to Knoxville:

The Vols eventually took back some momentum when Sibley left the game with foul trouble with 10 minutes remaining. Sibley had four fouls and had to sit much of the second half. Jordan Bowden led the charge.

Putting up 21 points to lead the team, Bowden lit a match under the Vols in the first half and continued throughout the game. Bowden finished the first half of the game with 12 points, and the offense seemed to run through him up until the half ended.

Rick Barnes believes the guard play can use improvement and it starts with Bowden being more aggressive than he was tonight.

“Late, I thought he (Bowden) really started driving the ball … he needs to be more aggressive, it’s not just shooting threes, but he needs to create more for himself,” Barnes said. “We’re trying to do that for him …. play off him a little bit, let him make plays.”

Bowden finished the game with 21 points, and scored nine of those in the second half.

Hustle is the word to describe Bowden tonight, as all six rebounds the Knoxville native tallied tonight were on the offensive glass. Bowden hustled all over the floor, but his strength down the strength was driving to the bucket.

“We were trying to be aggressive, we were in the bonus early,” Bowden said. “We had a tough first half. Sibley was in foul trouble early, we tried to get that last foul on him and get to the free throw line.”

Whether it was a hangover from the North Carolina loss or the later start time, Tennessee came out with little to no fire in this one. Although the crowd was moderate for a 9:05 p.m. tip-off,  the Vols found offense through both Grant Williams and Bowden in the second half.

Scoring only two points in the first half, Williams finished the game with 14, a hair under his season average of 15.8 per game. Williams has become the go-to-guy down the stretch for Tennessee. Rick Barnes credits Furman for the Vols tough game.

“We knew they were going to come in here and not be intimidated, because of their experience,” Barnes said. “We found a way to get the win … Furman’s the big story, they played their hearts out.”

Sibley came out firing in the second half, after only scoring three points in the first 20 minutes of the game. He came out and went blow for blow with the Vols by scoring nine points in the first five minutes of the second half.

Sibley finished the game with 22 on the night, and seemed nearly unstoppable before getting in foul trouble with 10 minutes remaining. Barnes recognizes the success Sibley had on the floor.

“One thing we know for certain is Tennessee has some pretty good basketball players,” Barnes said. “We know that because the two guys on the floor who played their best were both from Knoxville.”

No. 21 Tennessee will travel to Wake Forest on Saturday to face the Demon Deacons in its last game before conference play. The game will tip at 12:30 p.m ET.

Edited by Ben McKee

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee athletics