The Tennessee Volunteers (14-10, 6-5 SEC) cruised to victory past the Arkansas Razorbacks (16-8, 4-7 SEC) in an 82-61 blowout on Tuesday.
Freshman Josiah-Jordan James missed his fourth straight game with a groin injury. In place of James, junior Jalen Johnson earned his first career start. Johnson played solid defense and scored 4 points along with an assist, 3 turnovers, 2 blocks and 2 steals before fouling out.
“We wanted to start Yves back inside to start the game. We just felt like we needed to get him going back where he’s played most of his minutes this year,” Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes said regarding the decision to start Johnson in a smaller lineup.
Tennessee started the game with four different runs in the first half of 7+ unanswered points. They went into the half with a 40-23 lead from an all-around team effort.
Although the Vols got scoring contributions from seven different players, the charge was led by Santiago Vescovi. The freshman had 13 first-half points on four-of-six shooting with two threes. He also had a team high four assists and tied for the team high +/- with John Fulkerson at 18.
Arkansas’ Mason Jones, who leads the SEC in scoring with 25.0 ppg, struggled to break the Tennessee defense. The primary defender on Jones was Davonte Gaines, who held him to 7 points on one-of-nine shooting in the first half.
“I was able to just stay in front of him and force him into tough shots. The ball went my way with misses throughout the game,” Gaines said.
The second half saw more of the same from the Vols. With 9:46 left in the half, a pair of Gaines’ free throws ballooned the lead to 27 points.
Vescovi continued his excellent play resulting in game highs of 20 points and 8 assists. Jordan Bowden and Fulkerson added 16 and 14 points respectively to assist in the dominant win.
“I was just trying to make the right play all the time, whether it be with me shooting it or passing it to the bigs or passing it to whoever,” Vescovi said.
Jones finished the game with only 9 points on 1-of-10 shooting and did not play for much of the second half. His nine points contributed to his fourth-lowest scoring game of the season and his 22 minutes of court time were the second fewest he has played.
“He went 1 of 10, so we played other guys,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said.
Tennessee dominated the game offensively while shooting 49% on field goals and 38% from three. Conversely, Arkansas a much more difficult time finding the back of the net. The Razorbacks shot just 31% on field goals and 31% from three. The Vols also handily lead the Razorbacks in rebounds with 40 to 29.
Tennessee will be in action next in Columbia to face the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday. The game is slated to start at 6 p.m. on the SEC Network.
Edited by Christian Knox and Ben Gleason
Featured photo courtesy of Tennessee Basketball Twitter (@Vol_Hoops)