No. 18 Tennessee riding four-game win streak into game with Ole Miss

No. 18 Tennessee (16-5, 6-3 SEC) will look to gain momentum by taking down Ole Miss (11-11, 4-5 SEC) on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. ET. Tennessee, who has won seven of its last eight games, is rolling in conference play right now and is looking to break a three-way tie for second place with a win.

The Vols have done everything right as of late, but Ole Miss on the other hand has been in a downward spiral. Ole Miss has lost four of its last five, but three of the four losses have been by single digits.

Tennessee has improved tremendously in closing out games it has big leads in as of late. The Vols have held every opponent they have played lately under 70 points dating back to a true road game at Vanderbilt nearly a month ago.

The Big Orange have been stellar on both offense and defense, but know Ole Miss won’t roll over on Saturday.

“They’re tough, they’re consistent,” Barnes said. “They have a good inside game they can go to when they need it.”

Barnes knows the team has struggled in defending the post as of late, as good as the guard play has been. LSU big men scored the first 16 points of the game against the Vols in their previous game on Wednesday afternoon, and LSU big center Duop Reath scored 21 points inside – with Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander defending the majority of those.

Although the Vols out-rebounded the Tigers by 10 on Wednesday, Barnes sees plenty of room for improvement.

“Roles are really important,” Barnes said. “We’ve got to get better rebounding the basketball. (Grant Williams) can be so much better.”

Tennessee will have its hands full with Ole Miss senior guard Deandre Burnett, who averages over 15 points per game and dishes out 4.5 assists per game.

Burnett has been stellar all season long for the Rebels, but the Vols have been shutting down opposing guards as of late. Tennessee allowed LSU freshman standout Tremont Waters to just seven points on Wednesday night.

The bench play for LSU was also dwindled by suspension, as the Tigers only had seven scholarship players in the game, getting outplayed by Tennessee’s bench in every aspect. The Vols “smashed” the Tigers in bench play, according to LSU head coach Will Wade. The Tigers were out-scored 44-8 by the Vols in bench play.

Ole Miss on the other hand, has nine players on the team that average 17 or more minutes per game. This is a very deep Ole Miss team – possibly the deepest the Vols will play all season long.

Edited by Ben McKee

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Takeaways from No. 18 Tennessee’s win over LSU

No. 18 Tennessee handled business once again on Wednesday evening against an LSU Tigers team who only had seven scholarship players available. James Daniel III led the way in scoring, coming off of the bench with 17 points as the Vols won 84-61.

Tennessee’s bench is no joke

Grant Williams went down in the first half with an injury and the Vols didn’t let off of the gas pedal. With Williams only logging nine minutes in the first half, he still ended up finishing with 10 points in the half, and the Vols led by double-digits.

Williams is the anchor of this team, but for the team’s main source of offense to go down and the team to continue rolling the way they did speaks volumes for Rick Barnes’ team.

Tennessee’s bench outscored the LSU bench 44-8 and although that can be skewered due to the Tigers’ suspensions, the Vols effort off of the bench can’t be questioned. LSU head coach Will Wade was well aware his team got outworked.

“They just have a lot of different guys, a lot of different pieces,” Wade said. “We got smashed in bench play, those guys outworked us.”

Barnes was glad to see his team come out on top, but believes Yves Pons, Chris Darrington and Jalen Johnson need to take advantage of their short amount of time on the court.

“I am disappointed with James. I wish he would have given one of those other guys a shot that hadn’t been playing,” Barnes said. “As a coach you’re never satisfied with any of them … when you cut it down (to the end of the game) you really want to see those guys make some plays for us.”

Young Vols learning to close games

Tennessee has taken big leads this season and blown them.The Vols led by nine points against No. 10 North Carolina at home and double-digits on the road against both Villanova and Arkansas.

In this game, the Vols led for over 38 minutes of and didn’t slip up at any point of the game. Down the stretch of conference play and especially into the SEC tournament, creating leads and keeping them will be critical.

Guard play on both ends is improving

At the beginning of the season, the Vols struggled to find a true point guard in late game stretches. Lamonte Turner proved to be the guy that could step up and take big shots, especially against Purdue, but since then, the Vols have struggled to find a guy to consistently take care of the ball on both ends.

Jordan Bone struggled recently, and when he did, James Daniel III stepped up and played big in the last several games. Bone finished tonight’s game with a strong 12 points and eight assists with zero turnovers. Daniel led the team in scoring, but had high praise for his teammates.

“I really feel as if it helps,” Daniel said. “Any guy feels like it could be their night. Today I thought Jalen (Johnson) did well … Bone, Lamonte, anyone can step up any given night.”

Not only did Bone perform well on the offensive side of the ball, but the guards as a whole played well on defense. Freshman sensation Tremont Waters is averaging 15 points per game this season for LSU, but was shut down for the entirety of the game against the Vols.

Waters, who scored only seven points on the night, struggled to find his shot. It was a team effort from the guards, with Bone, Daniel III and Turner all taking turns on the standout freshman.

If Tennessee is going to beat great teams in the SEC tournament, it will need Bone to play like he did tonight – a true two-way point guard.

Edited by Ben McKee

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

No. 22 Tennessee hits the road for Big 12/SEC Challenge

Tennessee (14-5, 5-3 SEC) will have a tough test Saturday afternoon when it heads north to take on the Iowa State Cyclones (11-8, 2-6 Big 12). History is not on the Vols’ side, as the last five out-of-conference teams to travel to Hilton Coliseum left the contest with a loss.

The Cyclones have struggled so far this season, but Rick Barnes believes the team’s record is a bit misleading, and the Tennessee front court will have its hands full in this matchup.

“Early in the year is when they lost a lot of those games,” Barnes said. “They’ve got a young freshman guard that’s doing a terrific job for them.”

The freshman guard is Lindell Wigginton, a native of Nova Scotia who is averaging 16.2 points and four rebounds per contest. Wigginton is a force on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, shooting 43 percent from behind-the-arc.

Iowa State, a team averaging nearly 40 rebounds per game, will pose a big threat on the glass for the Vols. With four starters averaging more than four rebounds per game, the Cyclones are a well-rounded team on the glass.

Derrick Walker, a player who has emerged as of late for the Vols, should be in the rotation for Tennessee quite a bit on Saturday afternoon.

Walker, who averages a little over eight minutes per game on the season, has logged 25 and 17 minutes respectively against South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Walker has logged significant minutes as of late and sparked a Tennessee team which struggled on the glass before his recent surge in the lineup.

Jordan Bowden could be a big factor in the game, as he snapped out of a recent shooting slump, connecting on five three-pointers against Vanderbilt while logging 37 minutes in the game.

An exciting matchup to watch could be the Cyclone’s back-court play against the Vols back-court defense. The Cyclones really let it rip from outside, and the Tennessee head coach made sure to recognize that.

“Those guys like to get out and run,” Barnes said. “They get a lot of threes up.”

Tennessee should have a field day inside on the Cyclone’s front court, as Texas’ Mo Bamba had an out of the world performance in a blowout win over Iowa State in its previous game. Bamba posted 24 points and 14 rebounds.

Grant Williams, Walker and Kyle Alexander are all performing at high levels, and they are succeeding while working together. Alexander has recorded 11 blocks over the last four games, and Williams has recorded double digit scoring in all but two games this season.

Tennessee will take on Iowa State at 3:05 p.m. CT.

Edited by Ben McKee

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

No. 21 Tennessee finishes strong against Wake Forest

Photo by Brad Blackwelder.

No. 21 Tennessee (9-2) defeated the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 79-60 on Saturday inside Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem. With the win, Tennessee remains undefeated on the road and is now 3-1 against ACC opponents this season.

“We are who we say we are,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “We’re gonna find a way to get stops and win this game. And we did.”

Early foul trouble kept Tennessee’s key players on the bench for most of the first half. Sophomore forward Grant Williams fouled a Wake Forest player only seconds after tipoff. After each picking up two personal fouls, Williams and junior forward Admiral Schofield exited the game and would not return until the second half.

Wake Forest (7-5) would take advantage of Williams’ and Schofields’ absence in the post and would outrebound the Vols 19-11 in the first half. The Deacons, however, could not capitalize because of its 11 turnovers in the first half alone.

Offensively for the Demon Deacons, Keyshawn Woods led with 14 points in the first half which allowed the team to keep the game close, as the score was 36-35 at halftime. Woods was relatively quiet – as was the rest of the Wake Forest team – in the second half, only scoring four points.

Tennessee’s bench stepped up in the first half with Williams and Schofield sitting out. At halftime, junior forward Kyle Alexander had three rebounds and nine points on 4-for-4 shooting from the field.

The Vols looked much better in the second half and would have no problem pulling away on their way to the win. The visitors spread the ball effectively against a waning Wake Forest side with five different Tennessee players finishing the game with double-digit points.

“Give Tennessee credit,” Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning said. “They made plays and did some good things to prevent us from being as successful as you want it to be offensively.”

Sophomore guard Jordan Bowden drained a three-point shot with 3:48 left in the game to put Tennessee up 69-60 and end Wake Forest’s hopes of a comeback as it would be unable to score anymore points. The Vols finished the remainder of the game on a 16-2 run.

Bowden finished the game with 17 points behind five three-pointers and two free throws.

The Volunteers will remain on the road as they head to Fayetteville on Dec. 30 to face Arkansas in their first SEC matchup of the season after Christmas break. The game will tip at 1 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

“We know that we’ve got to get better,” Barnes said. “I think our guys realize it.”

Edited by Ben McKee

Photo by Brad Blackwelder

No. 21 Tennessee vs. Wake Forest preview and prediction

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.

 Prediction

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

Tar Heels experience proves too much for Vols in second half

Tennessee (7-2) got off to a hot start against North Carolina (10-1) on Sunday afternoon, as it controlled the tempo and led for over 37 minutes of the game. The Tar Heels proved last year’s win was no fluke, as Kenny Williams put a dagger in the Vols with 35 seconds remaining. Tennessee struggled late, as it only made three baskets in the final 10 minutes of play.

The Vols played stingy defense in the first half, and looked to be in complete control as they exchanged blows with the defending national champions.

Grant Williams, the North Carolina native who didn’t receive a scholarship from his favorite team growing up, led the Vols with 15 points. Lamonte Turner was sluggish in the game for Tennessee, putting up only two points in 24 minutes off the bench.

With the loss, Tennessee snapped its streak of five-straight wins over defending national champions in Thompson-Boling. That list included Connecticut and both Florida and Kentucky, but hadn’t been touched since Kentucky put the streak on the line in 2013.

The Vols were off to a hot start both offensively and defensively, as Jordan Bowden opened the game with a dunk off of a steal to put the Vols up 2-0 and electrify the crowd. Tennessee carried a six point lead in to halftime.

Joel Berry II, who didn’t play in last season’s contest against Tennessee, proved to be the difference maker for North Carolina. Berry II led the way for North Carolina with 21 points. Williams and Luke Maye added 15 for the Heels.

After a hot start to the second half, Tennessee proved its defense couldn’t do all of the work. The Vols made four of five shots out of the locker room after halftime, including two 3-pointers by Admiral Schofield, but failed to produce any offense for the remainder of the contest, making only 7 of 31 shots the rest of the way.

Tennessee will host Furman, who has won five straight games, on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Edited by Ben McKee

Feature image courtesy of the NCAA