I was in the student section for the last two years of Jerry Green and the first two of Buzz Peterson. Under Green's watch the Vols were running a promotion where if Tennessee scored 90+ points and won, you got a free cinnamon roll at Mrs. Winner's on The Strip. And my friends and I used to take handfuls of those coupons, because you knew Tennessee was going to hit that mark with the quickness.
It's safe to say there's some distance between Rick Barnes and Jerry Green on the coaching ladder. And sure, the Vols scored only 67 against the only non-low-major they've played thus far. But this team gets up and down the floor at a rate Green would appreciate. And tonight, a Tennessee team scored 90 points in regulation against a Division I opponent for the first time since Cuonzo Martin's first game (when Bruce Pearl's players clearly hadn't adjusted to Cuonzo's style). Tennessee improved to 4-1 on the year with a 95-80 win over Army.
Even better news: they may have done it against a pretty good low-major. We were warned by several voices in the Tennessee Basketball conversation that this would be the Vols' toughest game thus far. The team responded with its best performance of the year: Tennessee shot 52.9% from the floor and turned Army over 14 times compared to just seven for the home team. It was the Black Knights who loved the three ball coming in, but though they did hit 10 it took 27 attempts to get there. Meanwhile Tennessee started 0 for 8 from the arc, and then suddenly knocked down 10 of their next 14 to finish at 45.5% from three.
Tennessee got great work from Robert Hubbs in the first half in a close, 40-36 game at the break. But the second half belonged to Kevin Punter and Armani Moore. Punter finished with 26 points on 9 of 15 shooting and 7 of 9 at the line. Moore continues to make his play for the J.P. Prince Stat Sheet Player of the Year: 29 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks. New tonight: Moore knocked down three threes.
The Vols also got a lift from their non-big three, which was really encouraging. Derek Reese had 9 points and 11 rebounds. And freshman Shembari Phillips had his best game by far with five points. Detrick Mostella didn't score, but still contributed with four rebounds.
An Army squad that starts five seniors could end up making some noise in the Patriot League. We may look back on this win fondly as the year goes on. But a Tennessee team starting four seniors and a junior fought their way in front early in the second half, and after building a nine point lead at the first media timeout never let Army get closer than seven. Holding a lead is a step in the right direction.
The next step will have some incline: the Vols head to Brooklyn for two games over Thanksgiving weekend, starting with George Washington on Friday. If Army was the best team we've played so far, they'll only hold that distinction for 72 hours. The 5-0 Colonials beat Virginia and are receiving votes. The second game will feature either Nebraska or #24 Cincinnati, currently second nationally in Ken Pomeroy's defensive ratings.
So we're getting ready to learn, but at 4-1 the Vols should go to Brooklyn with no pressure and simply a desire to keep getting better. If Tennessee continues to win the games they should win at home, trips like this one to Brooklyn can be more of an opportunity than anything else as this team turns their eyes toward a healthy RPI. And so far, the Vols have continued to improve in their first five games.
This was a really good win tonight. We'll learn more right away. Until then, have a cinnamon roll. Go Vols.