Barnes speaks to media in season-ending press conference

Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes held his first press conference in Knoxville since the Vols’ 63-62 upset loss to 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago in the NCAA Tournament last Saturday.

After notching Tennessee basketball’s first regular season SEC Championship in a decade and leading the Volunteers to their best record (26-9, 11-5 SEC) since 2010, Barnes still seeks areas of improvement.

“The word I used a lot was consistency this year… I think individual guys need to be more consistent,” Barnes said. “You really want to get back to fundamentals, conditioning I think is a big part of that.”

Barnes noted one key difference from this year’s NCAA Tournament than his previous 21 times in the Big Dance. He said sophomore center Kyle Alexander’s injury marked the first time he had a player injured in the tournament. However, Barnes did not shy away from complementing the Ramblers and their improbable Final Four run.

“I think they (Loyola-Chicago) have as good of a chance as anybody to win the National Championship,” Barnes said. “When you watch them play they’re a highly efficient offensive team and a very good defensive team.”

The aftermath did not turn out happy-go-lucky for No. 3 seed Tennessee after the Ramblers victory last Saturday according to Barnes, but his team was anxious to get back to work.

“They were devastated, there’s not much you can say” Barnes said. “Starting today they’re all back in the gym. They’re wanting to get back.”

Despite returning every player on the roster except for one, Barnes stated the lone senior on the team, James Daniels III, will be missed.

“He had an impact and we’ll miss what he gave us,” Barnes said. “I thought it was really good the pressure that he put on Jordan Bone and Lamonte Turner.”

Barnes did hint that the orange-and-white put high-priority on finding a guard to replace Daniel III. However, he noted that he would rather bring in a high school player than another graduate-transfer.

The hardware did not stop at SEC Coach of the Year for Barnes, as he will be a recipient of the 2018 Coach Wooden “Keys to Life” Award during the Final Four weekend. The award is given to basketball staff that models high moral character, integrity and faith.

“Well first of all I can tell you there are a lot of guys more deserving of the award than me,” Barnes said. “It’s an honor… He (Wooden) impacted this sport long after he quit coaching.”

Barnes ended his press conference with news that will elate much of the Vols faithful: Tennessee will renew its in-state rival with Memphis next season. Newly hired Tigers Head Coach Penny Hardaway confirmed the news on Monday. The two teams will play one game each in Memphis and Knoxville and finish up with a matchup in the Music City.

“Don’t hold me to this, but I think the way the contract sets up, I think we go there first, they come here,” Barnes said. “We’d like to make it a big day of basketball in Nashville… Some kind of jamboree or extravaganza.”

The Volunteers and Memphis have met 25 times in the past, as Tennessee leads the series 14-11. The last rivalry game ended in an 85-80 win for the Vols in 2013.

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Daniel III leaves Vols with experience, new attitude

Hampton, Virginia native James Daniel III leaves Tennessee with a better attitude and improved skill. Daniel improved both his play and his outlook after Vols Head Coach Rick Barnes brought him in last summer as a grad-transfer. Daniel thanked Barnes and the program for his time on Rocky Top in an Instagram post Monday.

Daniel performed tremendously off the bench for the orange-and-white all season. With a season-high of 17 points, he had to change his play style after leading the NCAA in scoring (27 points per game) at Howard in 2016.

Averaging a solid 5.6 points, 2.8 assists and 1.4 rebounds per game off the bench this year, Daniel remained consistent for Tennessee.

The 2016 Volunteers team proved to be much deeper than what Tennessee faithful expected in previous seasons under Barnes. Daniel typically served as the second guard off Barnes’ bench behind sophomore SEC-Sixth Man of the Year Lamonte Turner.

Barnes reached into his bench for Daniel’s stability. Daniel brought crisp passing and the ability to lock up opposing guards. He recorded 10 assists in multiple games and recorded 28 steals on the year.

Daniel also made 37 percent of his 3-pointers after hitting nearly 50 shots from beyond-the-arc in the 2017-18 season. Barnes looked to him to play about half each game. Daniel averaged around 20 minutes per contest.

With plenty talent, Daniel fought and scrapped for minutes against starters Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden. Daniel also competed for play time with Turner, who had a career year.

As much as Daniel did this season for the Tennessee, the most important legacy he leaves in Knoxville is a culture change for this young Vols roster. His motto, “turn me up,” has become a popular slogan around Knoxville. Players, fans and even coaches caught on to the team’s mantra.

Tennessee will have an extremely young team going forward. Three of the five starters are sophomores and the other two starters are juniors. With Daniel’s absence, Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander will be the only seniors with significant playing time on the roster next year unless Barnes manages to pick up another graduate transfer.

Daniel entered as a player from Howard with expertise in scoring, but he leaves Knoxville as a player who grew into a solid all-around teammate. Barnes and the Volunteers will miss his presence in 2019.

Written by Caleb Souders 

Edited by Seth Raborn/Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics 

Tennessee cruises past Wright State, advances to Round of 32

No. 3 seed Tennessee dominated its opening round of the NCAA Tournament with a 73-47 win over 11th-seeded Wright State Thursday afternoon. The Volunteers will play Loyola-Chicago in the Round of 32 on Saturday.

The SEC’s Co-Sixth Man of the Year Lamonte Turner, led the Vols with 19 points and a career-high nine assists. The Volunteers looked confident after a shaky start. The Vols did not score on their first five attempts of the game, but they got it going after a 3-pointer from forward Admiral Schofield.

Schofield continued his productive run, finishing the day with a double-double in a 19-point, 12 rebound performance. After sitting out nearly seven minutes of Tennessee’s SEC Tournament Championship loss to Kentucky, Schofield came out of the gate firing and did not let up. A thunderous dunk from Schofield in the second half sealed the deal for the Vols.

Sophomore forward Grant Williams nearly missed a double-double, finishing the day with 14 points and nine rebounds. The Volunteers’ big man slammed an authoritative dunk in the first half, which woke up the Tennessee fans and teammates alike. Center Kyle Alexander also made two key blocks in the game that helped the Vols pull away and keep their momentum going.

The Vols forced the Raiders to shoot just 32 percent from the field and 19 percent from beyond-the-arc in the game. Meanwhile, the orange-and-white capitalized with 45 percent shooting from the field and five 3-pointers.

Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes refuses to let his team overlook opponents.

“You’re saying can we out-talent clubs? No, we’ve never looked at that,” Barnes said. “One thing we’ve told our players, and we say it all the time, everybody can play. I do think hard work is a talent. I don’t think that’s a given.”

Williams later gave the key to his dominant rebounding against Wright State.

“Really, I’ve just been pursuing the ball more,” Williams said. “Normally I try and box guys out and make sure to keep them off the glass and allow other guys to get it because that’s just how I used to do it.”

Tennessee will take on No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago on Saturday, but the start time has not yet been released.

Edited by Seth Raborn/Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Vols thump Razorbacks, advance to SEC Championship

No. 2 seed and 13th-ranked Tennessee beat sixth-seeded Arkansas in the semifinal round of the SEC Tournament by a score of 84-66 on Saturday. The Vols lost the first meeting of the season 95-93 on Dec. 30th in Fayetteville. With a chance to play for an SEC Tournament Championship, Tennessee looked locked and loaded from the start.

The Volunteers got off to a strong start behind sophomore guard Jordan Bone. In the first half, Bone went 7-of-7 shooting, while hitting three 3-pointers. His strong first half performance helped the Tennessee take a 19-point lead in to the half. Bone finished the game with a team-high 19 points and four assists in the win.

I just think starting off the game we were really aggressive. It’s really just playing within the offense,” said Bone about his performance. “Shots were falling, and we were playing against a really good defensive team.”

Four other Vols ended the day in double- digit scoring along with Bone. Admiral Schofield scored 16 points while Grant Williams, James Daniel III and Kyle Alexander had 12 points apiece. Alexander also had seven rebounds and two blocks to lead the team, while Williams finished with five rebounds, four assists and a blocked shot.

Tennessee is currently on a six-game win streak and have won 13 out of its last 15 games. It seems that head coach Rick Barnes has his team clicking on all cylinders at the right time. The Volunteers have one final game before they find out their fate for the NCAA Tournament, and it comes against their rival to the North, Kentucky.

The Wildcats beat Alabama on Saturday 86-63 prior to Tennessee’s game against the Razorbacks. Tennessee beat Kentucky in the two previous meetings this season. With a championship on the line, the Vols can expect to get the best out of the young Wildcats team.

“They’re a totally different team than they were then. I’ve been watching them,” said Barnes on Kentucky. “His (John Calipari’s) teams always get better late in the year. It looks like they’ve really made a commitment to really play big, strong basketball inside.”

Tennessee has a chance to win their first SEC Tournament Championship since 1979 on Sunday. The Vols beat the Wildcats in their 1979 championship game, as they look to repeat history. Sunday’s game will be the first appearance for Tennessee in the tournament championship game since 2009.

“It’s championship season, fatigue does play a factor,” said Schofield. “But everyone is tired this time of year. The biggest thing is who wants it most.”

With their win over the Razorbacks, the Volunteers continued their perfect record in rematch games on the season. Tip off for the championship game is set for 1 p.m. ET and will be aired on ESPN.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

No. 19 Tennessee looking to bounce back with win over Florida

Florida (17-10, 8-6 SEC) travels to Knoxville to face off against Tennessee in Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET. The Volunteers have lost five of the last six games against the Gators, losing their previous matchup with Florida.

In 2017, the No. 24 ranked Gators handed Tennessee an 83-70 loss in Gainesville. The last time the two teams played in Knoxville came in 2016. Tennessee came out on top with 26 points from Kevin Punter.

The last two games for Florida have been decided by a combined six points, and neither game went in the Gatos favor. Florida fell to Georgia 72-69, and then lost to Vanderbilt by a score of 71-68 in Nashville on Saturday. The Gators lost despite forcing the Commodores to turn the ball over 11 times and shoot 43 percent from the field.

Vanderbilt was down by 11 points with just 14 minutes remaining in the game on Saturday. However, the Commodores won their fifth straight game in Memorial Gym with a combined 47 points from Jeff Roberson and Riley LaChance.

“The only thing consistent about this team (Florida) is our inconsistency,” said Gators head coach Mike White.

Despite the loss, sophomore Keith Stone led Florida with a team-high 20 points and seven rebounds. Senior guard Egor Koulechev and junior Jalen Hudson were the only other Gators with over 10 points in the game, as they combined for 11 rebounds. Senior guard Chris Chiozza registered just six points and six assists in the loss.

“He’s experienced and he’s very fast and they do a lot with him. He puts a lot of pressure on you on defense past the ball,” said Barnes about Chiozza. “He’s moving the whole time and he keeps the ball moving. He’s been around this league a long time and he’s had a lot of success.”

The Volunteers are fresh off an embarrassing 73-62 loss to Georgia on Saturday. The Bulldogs finished off Tennessee 73-62 thanks to forward Yante Maten scoring a team-high 19 points. Most alarming for the Vols was their offensive inefficiency, as they shot just 34 percent from the field and made just 8-of-25 three-pointers.

“I think the biggest variable this time of year is rebounding. I think that you got to control the boards. You certainly have to control your defensive boards,” said Barnes. “You cannot have unforced turnovers this time of year.”

Tennessee had four players reach double-digit points in Saturday’s game, including Lamonte Turner’s 14 points and three rebounds. The big man duo of Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander combined for 21 points and 17 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to leave Athens with a win.

The Vols are going to need more production from their forward Grant Williams, who shot just 1-of-8 from the field and tallied five points. Tennessee also needs to get back to dominating on the boards or it could be a long night for the Vols.

Edited by Ben McKee

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics 

Turner buries No. 24 Kentucky to sweep Cats for first time since 1999

Lamonte Turner etched his name in Tennessee basketball history books Tuesday night.

Trailing 58-56 with 28 seconds remaining and 10 seconds left on the shot clock, Turner drilled a deep three to give Tennessee a 59-58 lead.

“I had confidence,” Turner said to the Vol Network following the game. “When it left my hand, I was pretty sure it was going in.”

“He’s a competitor,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said of Turner. “He’s not afraid to take the shot.”

Following Turner’s clutch three, Jordan Bowden forced a turnover and threw it ahead to Admiral Schofield who threw down a vicious dunk. The dunk gave Tennessee a 61-58 lead with four seconds remaining and put the dagger in Kentucky.

“As a group, our guys look at each other and they believe in each other,” Barnes said. “We just kept talking, let’s stay with it defensively and rebound the ball, and we’ll find something on the other end.”

As a result, No. 15 Tennessee (18-5, 8-3 SEC) picked up its first win in Rupp Arena since 2006 and sweeps the season-series with No. 24 Kentucky (17-7, 6-5 SEC) for the first time since 1998-99.

“It’s very important,” Turner said when asked about sweeping Kentucky. “It’s a great feeling. When I get back home, I think I’ll realize how big of a win it really is.”

The matchup wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the Vols on Tuesday night. For the first time in quite some time, the Vols offense didn’t show up ready to play.

The one person who did come ready to play though was Turner. The redshirt-sophomore out of Huntsville, Alabama carried Tennessee through an ugly first half. Turner led Tennessee with 16 points on the night, 11 of which came in the first half.

In the opening frame, Turner’s teammates were just 6-of-20 from the field and 0-of-7 from the three-point line while Turner was 4-of-6 from the floor and 3-of-4 from beyond-the-arc.

Despite the offensive struggles in the first half, Tennessee built a 27-26 halftime lead thanks to its play on the defensive end. In the first ten minutes of the half, Kentucky shot just 1-of-9 from the field and turned it over five times. The Cats didn’t score their first field goal until 14 and a half minutes into the game.

The loss of Kyle Alexander played a big role in the Vols’ first half struggles. With 12:25 remaining in the half, Alexander picked up his second foul and was forced to sit on the bench for the remainder of the half. In just six minutes, the junior had scored four points, hauled in two rebounds, blocked two shots and picked up a steal.

Bowden stepped up in the second half while his teammates struggled, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the final 20 minutes.

The affair flipped back-and-forth in the second half, as neither team led by more than three points until Grant Williams knocked down a pair of free throws to take a 50-46 lead.

The Cats would then go on a 7-0 run capped by a Kevin Knox and-one to take a 53-50 lead. Following a pair of Bowden free throws, Tennessee cut the lead to one.

After Kentucky took a 58-56 lead, Alexander forced a game-changing Kentucky turnover. Barnes then called a timeout that set up the Turner three to take the lead–a lead that the Vols wouldn’t give up on their way to just their fifth all-time win in Rupp Arena.

Bowden would go on to finish with 13 points and eight rebounds on 4-of-8 shooting. Schofield finished with 12 points and six rebounds, while Grant Williams scored 10 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the free throw line.

Tennessee has little time to soak in the victory. The Vols will head to Tuscaloosa Saturday to take on a talented but young Alabama team at 6 p.m. ET.

“This is the best basketball league in the country, and I don’t know why people don’t want to own up to that,” Barnes said as his team gears up for another tough challenge. “If it keeps going like it is right now, this league should have nine teams in the NCAA Tournament. It’s as competitive as any league I’ve coached in.”

“It’s all Alabama now,” Turner said.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics