No. 21 Tennessee enters Christmas break coming off a road win in Winston-Salem over Wake Forest 79-60, snapping the Demon Deacons six-game winning streak.
With the win, Tennessee improves to 9-2 on the season and 4-1 on the season against ACC opponents – if you include the Vols exhibition win over soon-to-be ranked Clemson.
Here’s what we learned about the Vols in their win over the Demon Deacons, as Jordan Bowden led five players in double-figures.
Jordan Bowden has to shoot the basketball more.
On Saturday afternoon, the sophomore guard lit up Wake Forest for 17 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the 3-point line.
After a sluggish first half from the Vols, Rick Barnes’ squad scored eight points right out of the gate to start the second half. Bowden played a big part, drilling a three to give Tennessee a 52-43 lead with 14:18 remaining. At one point in the second half, Bowden drilled a three from Charlotte to bail the Vols out late in the shot clock and stick the dagger in Wake Forest.
Through 11 games, Bowden is shooting a team-high 53 percent from the field, but has attempted just 77 shots. His 62-shooting percentage from the 3-point line is not only a team-high, but it ranks best in the SEC and second in the entire country.
Going forward, it’s simple. Bowden is the Vols best shooter and he has to shoot the basketball more.
Bowden is long, athletic and has the ability to score from anywhere on the court. He can light it up from three, finish around the rim and has the best mid-range jumper the Vols have seen since current Miami Heat Josh Richardson was wearing orange-and-white.
To his own fault, Bowden is selfless, as he’s always looking to setup his teammates for the open shot. He has only attempted 10-or-more shots once this season, but if the Vols want to reach the heights they’re capable of, the Knoxville native needs to start shooting the ball 9-to-10 times a game.
Tennessee can survive when Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield get into foul trouble.
Thanks to early foul trouble, Tennessee got off to a slow start on Saturday afternoon. The early trouble can be traced back to Williams and Schofield combing to play just 14 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble.
Williams picked up a foul just one second into the game, as he was called for elbowing a Demon Deacon on the opening tipoff. Moments later, Williams picked up his second foul on a questionable blocking call. Schofield also picked up early fouls to join Williams on the bench.
In the first half, Wake Forest spent 15 minutes in the bonus thanks to the Vols committing 13 first half fouls.
With Williams and Schofield on the bench, Tennessee fought and crawled as they built a 36-35 halftime lead. In the absence of the Vols two leaders, junior forward Kyle Alexander carried the team. Alexander had nine points and three rebounds in the first half, as the Deacons couldn’t find a solution for the Canada native.
12 different Vols chipped in to help build the halftime lead. If Tennessee can succeed without being reliant upon Williams and Schofield showing up, this team will far exceed expectations.
The ACC is no match for the Vols.
The Vols have been impressive to begin the season, reeling off wins over then-ranked No. 14 Purdue, NC State, Georgia Tech and the Demon Deacons. Tennessee’s two losses have come against the past two national champions – No. 1 Villanova and No. 5 North Carolina.
As stated above, the Vols are now 4-1 against ACC opponents if you include their 71-67 win over soon-to-be ranked Clemson.
Tennessee closed out its trip to the Bahamas with a 67-58 win over NC State the day after Thanksgiving before Lamonté Turner poured in a career-high 24 points to beat Georgia Tech 77-70 in Atlanta on Dec. 3.
The Vols then led No. 5 North Carolina for 37 minutes, but couldn’t close the Tar Heels out at home, losing 78-73. After the heartbreaking loss to the reigning national champs, the Vols went on the road and handled Wake Forest in the second half to pick up a win before Christmas break and SEC play.
With the win over the Demon Deacons, Tennessee enters conference play with two or fewer losses for the first time since 2009-10.
If the Vols can hold their weight against the mighty ACC, they should be one of the favorites to take home the SEC crown the first week of March.
Edited by Seth Raborn
Feature image courtesy of Brad Blackwelder