Vols down No. 24 South Carolina, 78-69

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After close losses to the likes of Butler, Gonzaga, and Texas A&M this season, Tennessee finally notched a win against a quality opponent when it took down No. 24 South Carolina on Saturday, 78-69, in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Tennessee had a solid win on Jan. 6 against Florida, but has struggled since. The low point for the Vols came in a Wednesday night drubbing at the hands of in-state rival Vanderbilt.

A bounce back against the Gamecocks provided Tennessee with its first win over a ranked opponent since defeating then-No. 19 Arkansas just over a year ago.

Kevin Punter scored a career-high 36 points for the Vols. Punter was nearly unstoppable from beyond the arc, busting six three-pointers. He also came close to perfect at the free throw line, hitting 14-of-15.

“The second half, we got going, and KP (Punter) was phenomenal,” said head coach Rick Barnes.

“When he got in the flow, you could just see it. He was totally in control of what he wanted to do.”

Saturday’s 36-point performance marked the third time this season that Punter has scored over 30.

Also contributing to the upset victory, Robert Hubbs III managed to score 12 points and secure eight rebounds. Detrick Mostella added 10 points, including two three-pointers.

For South Carolina, Michael Carrera scored 22 points. Veteran Duane Notice and Chris Silva also scored in double figures. The Gamecocks’ leading scorer on the season, Sindarius Thornwell, did not put any points on the board.

The Vols dominated the final 20 minutes after both teams struggled to hit shots early. Tennessee never trailed in the second half, but South Carolina did cut the lead to five in the game’s closing minutes.

Both teams shot around 41 percent from the field, and both had 34 rebounds. The difference in the game was clearly at the free throw line.

“One thing South Carolina does a great job with, and I think teams that really understand winning do, is they normally make more free throws than their opponents shoot,” said Barnes.

“The fact is, we did a great job on the free throw line today.”

The Vols shot close to 94 percent (30-of-32) from the stripe, whereas the Gamecocks only hit 15 foul shots.

Tennessee will get back to work soon after celebrating the win, as it prepares for Alabama on Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

Featured image by Ben Ozburn

Edited by Nathan Odom

Lady Vols, SEC still have Pat’s back

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When the Lady Vols take on Vanderbilt tonight at Thompson-Boling Arena, it will be more than just your ordinary SEC women’s basketball game.

It will be about honoring the legendary Pat Summitt. Tennessee’s head coach emeritus was diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, before the 2011-12 basketball season. That was the last season for Summitt as the Lady Vols’ head coach. She literally handed the whistle and the program over to longtime assistant coach Holly Warlick.

Ever since Summitt stepped down, Tennessee and the SEC have held “We Back Pat” week. This week means more to the Lady Vols and their fan base than most. However, other teams in the SEC also honor the legend.

Money is raised for Alzheimer’s research and for the Pat Summitt Foundation. For those clad in orange and Lady Vols’ blue, it goes deeper than raising awareness for the disease. It is about letting Summitt know how important she is to the fans on Rocky Top.

Summitt’s career may have come to an early and shocking end, but it has not changed her legacy in the minds of Tennessee fans.

If this year is similar to years past, you can expect videos from other SEC coaches and former players, donations to the Pat Summitt Foundation and to Alzheimer’s research. Summitt will make an appearance on some level and there will be plenty of “We Back Pat” t-shirts to go around.

There should be a large crowd if weather permits. While the game itself is important for sentimental reasons, the team does not need a third loss in league play before a trip to Lexington this weekend.

In a season where the pressure is turned up on Warlick and the team, it will be even higher tonight. Losing to Vandy on The Summitt on “We Back Pat” night probably wouldn’t make any Tennessee fan happy.

It definitely won’t help to quiet the noise that some fans are making about the disappointing season the Lady Vols are having. Still, tonight is about more than winning. It is about Summitt and the love a fan base has for a true legend.

So, tonight if you find your way to The Summitt, for whatever reason, all the struggles of a hard season will be forgotten momentarily… for something bigger.

Tonight is about unity.

Tonight is about the woman that made women’s basketball what it is today.

Tonight, Tennessee says,

“We Back Pat.”

Edited by Cody McClure

Tennessee falters late to Texas A&M

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Although Tennessee turned in a complete team effort with six players in double digits, sloppy play down the stretch allowed Texas A&M to steal a win at Knoxville.

Kevin Punter didn’t start off hot like he had the past couple of games, but Tennessee was still able to maintain a small lead in the beginning stages of the game. Detrick Mostella hit a couple of early three-pointers and Tennessee went on a 9-0 run.

A&M struggled to shoot the ball during the first few minutes and had seven early turnovers, but they answered Tennessee’s run with a 9-0 run of their own thanks to Tennessee’s carelessness with the ball. However, the Vols were still able to secure an eight point halftime lead.

Admiral Schofield led all scorers with 13 points and was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field including 3-of-3 from deep. Punter didn’t hit a field goal in the first half, but made two free throws for just two first half points. Tennessee shot 55 percent from the field and beyond the arc but struggled to take care of the ball, racking up 13 first half turnovers.

Jalen Jones led the Aggies with 12 first half points but Texas A&M struggled in the first half and shot only 37 percent from the field.

In the second half, Punter heated up and had eight points in the first 10 minutes of play, helping Tennessee secure a double-digit lead. The Vols kept the lead near double digits for most of the half, but Texas A&M went on an impressive run at the four minute mark and grabbed the lead with just a minute and a half to play due to some terrible turnovers by Tennessee.

Punter hit a clutch three-pointer with 31 seconds left to cut the lead to one point, but it wasn’t enough as Texas A&M hit three of their last four free throws, dropping Tennessee to 1-2 in conference play. The Aggies finished the game on an 18-4 run.

Punter led the Vols in scoring again with 19 points and Schofield, Baulkman, Mostella, Hubbs III and Phillips all scored in double digits. Tennessee turned the ball over 18 times over the course of the game.

“The difference in the game was turnovers,” said coach Rick Barnes. “If you have a lead, your offense has to protect it for you and we didn’t do that today.”

Jones led all scorers with 27 points and Danuel House chipped in with 23 points. Texas A&M shot 63 percent from the floor in the second half, helping them pull off the comeback in dramatic fashion.

Tennessee travels to take on Georgia next Wednesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST.

Edited by Hannah Hunnicutt

Vols dominate Gators for first SEC win, 83-69

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Tennessee’s big first half was enough to send the Gators back to the Florida swamp with their first SEC loss.

It was Tennessee’s SEC home opener and the Vols decided to break out the special smokey grey jerseys for the occasion. Whether it was something special in the stitching or just the added swagger, Tennessee played its best basketball of the season.

Admiral Schofield and Kevin Punter were the lead scorers in Tennessee’s loss to Auburn on Saturday, and they once again jump-started the Vols. Punter and Schofield combined for the first 13 Tennessee points and didn’t look back.

Punter hit his first seven attempts, including back-to-back three pointers, for 15 early points and the Tennessee offense as a whole was flowing.

Coach Rick Barnes was forced to start a small lineup because of Florida’s press, yet out-rebounded Florida 23-19 in the first half. Tennessee played great defense in the post and only allowed six total first half points in the paint.

The Gators struggled to hit shots from anywhere in the first half and only managed to shoot 33 percent from the floor. They also turned the ball over 10 times, compared to Tennessee’s three turnovers, which allowed the Vols to head into the break with a 53-31 lead.

Punter led the Vols with 18 first half points and Schofield chipped in with 15. Tennessee shot 51 percent from the floor and was able to create open looks from all over the court.

The second half was a sloppy one for both teams and the first points weren’t scored until about three minutes in, but Tennessee held on for its first SEC win over rival Florida.

“We played tonight the way you have to play to win games in this league,” said Barnes. “By playing good defense.”

Tennessee held Florida to just 34 percent from the field. Every shot was contested and players were flying to the ball.

“We were being aggressive and swarming on the defensive end,” said Barnes.

Punter led all scorers with 26 points and also had eight rebounds. Tennessee shot 47 percent from the floor and also out-rebounded the Gators 49-40.

KeVaughn Allen led Florida in scoring with 18 points and Dorian Finney-Smith had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Tennessee plays again on Saturday when Texas A&M comes to Thompson-Boling Arena.

Edited by Cody McClure

Vols fall short in stinging loss to Georgia Tech

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Tipping off at 7 p.m. on Monday night, the Volunteers kicked off the famous 31 consecutive hours of college basketball on the road against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

After leading by a game-high nine points with less than 15 minutes to go, the Vols hit a slump and failed to regain the lead, slipping 69-67 to Georgia Tech.

Despite a late surge by the Volunteers, their efforts fell short at the buzzer as senior guard Devon Baulkman’s three point attempt sailed over the rim.

After both teams struggled to gain any real control over the game, the Volunteers struck for 11 consecutive points to start the second half.

Minutes later, Georgia Tech answered with a 10-0 run to regain the lead. Rick Barnes’ squad showed how the new up-tempo system can affect their play when depth is challenged down the stretch.

On a 1-for-14 shooting drought, the Volunteers fell behind by seven points with just under seven minutes remaining.

Tennessee made a late surge capped off by a three pointer from senior forward and Atlanta native Armani Moore to slim the lead to 69-67 with 1:47 remaining.

With three chances to tie the game or take the lead, the Volunteers failed to convert. Inconsistency rooted from lack of depth and fatigue ended up being the story of the night.

“I didn’t think we were disciplined at all on the offensive end when we had control of the game,” said Barnes. “Doing things that we haven’t seen as a staff, just throwing the ball around.”

Not having the production from their two stars, Armani Moore and Kevin Punter, inhibited the Vols in the close loss.

Although Moore led the team in scoring with 17 points in front of a hometown crowd, Punter suffered through cramps in the second half, only contributing nine points.

But where Punter fell short, junior Robert Hubbs III compensated. Hubbs was second in scoring for the Volunteers, racking up 13 points after some doubted his health.

After losing one of the “ones that bother you,” Barnes had optimism for the team.

“When your two best players don’t have a great night, and you’re right there, it should be encouraging for us,” said Barnes.

Despite shooting a poor 35.1 percent from the field, Tennessee outrebounded the Yellow Jackets 53-47. That is a positive takeaway for a team that seems to be mismatched on the boards.

Tennessee looks to bounce back Thursday night at Thompson-Boling Arena, where it will host Marshall at 7 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

Featured image by Ben Ozburn

Edited by Cody McClure

Big performances lift Tennessee over UNC-Asheville, 82-78

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It wasn’t easy, but the Vols got the job done.  In a close, hard-fought game, Tennessee came away with a victory over UNC-Asheville on Friday night, 82-78.

Tennessee started the contest strong with a 7-0 run, but the Bulldogs soon found rhythm, as they went on a 16-9 run to tie the game midway through the first half. Throughout the first half, Tennessee’s struggled for the most part. UNC-Asheville’s defense frustrated the Vols, forcing them to take several poor shots.

The Bulldogs also dominated Tennessee on the glass, finishing the first half with a 23-13 advantage in rebounds. Due to mistakes and turnovers by UNC-Asheville, Tennessee was able to keep it close and went into the break with a 34-33 lead. Kevin Punter was the leading scorer for Tennessee at the break with 13 points. Asheville’s Will Weeks had 12.

The second half was just as close as the first. Although the Vols rebounded much better in the second half, outdoing Asheville 20-10, the defense continued to struggle and the offense looked sloppy.

Photo by Cody McClure
Photo by Cody McClure

Head coach Rick Barnes wasn’t pleased with either side of the ball. “We don’t have an attitude. That pride you need, we don’t have that on the defensive end yet,” said Barnes. “We didn’t protect the ball particularly well in the second half.”

Despite the issues, Tennessee took the lead, 36-35, with approximately 19 minutes left in the game. The Vols would not give up that lead until a pair of Dwayne Sutton free throws gave the Bulldogs a 65-63 edge with five minutes remaining.

Punter and Moore stepped up and made big plays for Tennessee in the closing minutes. “I don’t think there’s any doubt KP [Punter] and Armani [Moore] are competitors,” said Barnes.

With just under 90 seconds to play, Robert Hubbs III recorded an important block that led to a Punter layup, giving the Vols a 76-72 lead. However, Hubbs III landed awkwardly and grasped his left leg. He was then carried off the court, unable to put any weight on his left leg. As it turned out, the seemingly-serious injury was only a cramp.

Tennessee was able to close out the game with free throws, securing the 82-78 win. The team was led by Punter, who had a career night, scoring 31 points on 10-14 shooting. He was 3-6 from beyond the arc.

Moore also played a big role in the Vols’ win, registering 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Before the injury, Hubbs III played well, finishing with 18 points on 8-12 shooting.

Tennessee also witnessed the emergence of a possible key player in Jabari McGhee. McGhee contributed some vital plays, finishing with nine points and six rebounds.

For the Bulldogs, Weeks was their best player. He ended the game with 25 points.

Tennessee shot over 52 percent for the night, but the Vols were only 25 percent beyond the arc. In its exhibition game against Alabama-Huntsville, Tennessee hit 13 three-pointers. All in all, the Vols made their coach happy with a debut win.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the University of Tennessee,” said Barnes.

Tennessee takes on Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Monday night at 7 p.m. ET.

Edited by Cody McClure

Featured image by Matthew R. Osborne, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics