The Vols and Yellow Jackets got off to a running start in Atlanta, and even though neither team could maintain the high quality of play we saw early, that didn't slow the pace or the entertainment. In the end Tennessee had the ball down two with six seconds left and the length of the floor to go, with a deep Devon Baulkman three too strong and Georgia Tech getting the win.
If you watched the Cuonzo Martin & Donnie Tyndall Vols, you can see the difference with the Rick Barnes Vols in about two offensive possessions. Tennessee doesn't just want to run, they run. Every possession. Even when it gets sloppy. And even when it encourages the other team to run, which has made both games turn into a more athletic version of your church league for a few possessions each half.
It has also impacted the Vols with leg cramps: Robert Hubbs in what looked like a scary situation in the final minutes against Asheville, and tonight Kevin Punter, who went out for a long stretch in the second half before returning at the under four. Punter missed a pair of free throws (Vols just 9 of 17 there) which would have tied the game with 1:19 to go, and cramps may have been a factor there.
This is a team that looks built to earn and lose double-digit leads with equal ease. It happened tonight: the Vols used an 11-0 run to take a 53-44 lead with 14:19 to go, then Georgia Tech went on a 14-2 run in the next four minutes. We heard a lot of talk about three point shooting coming into the year, but both teams followed the script tonight: Tennessee was 4 of 15 (and 4 of 16 against Asheville), Georgia Tech was 2 of 19.
But man, both teams kept coming. It wasn't always pretty, but it was always fierce. A late scrum sent more than half of the players on the floor to the deck in search of a loose ball, a bounce which ultimately went Georgia Tech's way. There may be a lot of games this year when Tennessee has to get those bounces to win. But so far I feel like there will be a lot of games where the Vols will be not just entertaining, but competitively entertaining.
The Vols got just nine points from Kevin Punter, and Armani Moore's 17 came on 5 of 20 shooting and lots of work at the free throw line. Robert Hubbs had 13 points on 16 shots. So it may go until the Vols get other options and/or interior options, though Jabari McGhee was strong off the bench with 10 points and 4 rebounds if we're still considering him an interior option. But despite all this, the Vols were right there at the end. And if we buy into the idea that this is a team that will get better under Rick Barnes, they can continue to be there at the end.
Up next Tennessee hosts Marshall on Thursday night.