No. 21 Tennessee (8-2) will travel to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest (7-4) Saturday afternoon, as the game marks both teams’ last matchup before conference play. The matchup inside Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum is the first between the two sides since 2013, when Tennessee won 82-63 at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. Prior to 2013, their last meeting was during the 1970-1971 season.
Tennessee will look to have a better performance against Wake Forest after squeaking by Furman 66-61 on Wednesday night, where they struggled to cope with the Paladin defense. The Vols shot 37 percent from the field, their worst shooting performance of the season. Much of Tennessee’s performance can be attributed to its emotional loss to North Carolina on Sunday, as it needed a strong performance from sophomore guard Jordan Bowden. The sophomore tied his career-high 21 points to help get the win.
The Vols have all the tools they need to earn their second road win after defeating Georgia Tech in Atlanta earlier this season. Leading the way offensively for Tennessee will be sophomore forward Grant Williams who leads the team with 27.8 points per game.
Bowden has been a key-player offensively as of late and will look to contribute from long-range, as he leads the team with 21 three-pointers.
Defensively, Tennessee cannot afford to switch-off and let a young Wake Forest team gain confidence on offense. This is where the Vols will look to Williams to secure defensive rebounds and earn crucial blocks to thwart any attack down in the paint.
Another player that Tennessee will need a big game from at both sides of the ball is junior forward Admiral Schofield who earned his second career double-double on Wednesday night, finishing with 12 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. Schofield has the ability to not only take on the big guys in the paint, but he is also a threat on the perimeter with his long-range shooting, as he is tied for second on the team with 16 three-pointers this season. Wake Forest will need to keep a watchful eye on him.
The Demon Deacons are fresh off a close 84-80 win over Coastal Carolina. Despite early losses in the season – losing four of its first six games – Wake Forest have been riding on a six-game win streak. A key victory over Illinois in November shows that this young team has learned from its mistakes and has the capabilities to come out with a win on Saturday.
Tennessee’s defense will have its hands full with junior guard Bryant Crawford who had an impressive 22-point season-high performance to help Wake Forest defeat Coastal Carolina on Monday night. Last season, Crawford became the first player with 500 points and 150 assists in a season since 1994-95 and has not slowed down this season. The junior is a dynamic player that the Demon Deacons have not seen since Chris Paul and will be a key player against the Vols on Saturday.
If Tennessee can clean up its mistakes from the Furman game and mentally get over the North Carolina game, then they can beat Wake Forest. The Vols have proved their resilience in games away from Knoxville with strong, gritty performances in the Bahamas and at Georgia Tech.
Wake Forest, however, should not be counted out as they are playing with confidence and will not allow Tennessee to easily beat them on home court. The game will be physical, and the score will be close to the very end. Tennessee’s biggest advantage is that it has head coach Rick Barnes, who will have them prepared for this game, and perhaps, the Vols can get away with simply outcoaching Wake Forest and leave Winston-Salem with a win before conference play begins.
Edited by Ben McKee
Feature image courtesy of Tennessee athletics