Score one for the good guys.
Led by 16 points from Robert Hubbs, the Vols got their first win of the season 103-94 over Appalachian State on Tuesday night (and it didn’t even require overtime!). It was Tennessee’s first time scoring in triple digits since January 2011.
If you want to know the ceiling and the floor of this team, the first half gave you a glimpse of both.
After hitting only one 3 in the entire game against UTC, the Vols got one 5 seconds in from Jordan Bowden. App “Don’t Call Me Appy” State answered right back, and 15 seconds in, we were on pace for a 480-480 game.
Things slowed down a bit from there as both teams fell into a lull, mixing turnovers with missed chip shots. After Appalachian State grabbed an 11-9 lead, though, the Vols started firing on all cylinders.
Fueled by 7 Mountaineer turnovers in an 8 possession stretch, including 6 straight, the Vols unleashed a 21-0 run over 7.5 minutes. Jordan Bone scored or assisted on 10 of 21 points in the run, a spurt that included 3 shots from deep and 6 different players getting a bucket.
When App State steadied the ship a bit, the Vols went on a 10-2 surge with 8 points scored or assisted by Jordan Bone. In total over a 33-5 avalanche, Tennessee forced turnovers, defended aggressively, got out in transition, and mixed drives to the basket with made shots. It was beautiful.
The last 5 minutes of the half were...less so. The Vols turned it over 3 times, committed 5 fouls, and hit only 1 shot from the field in letting the ‘Neers go on a 19-4 run to get back in the game. A nice assist from Jordan Bone to Grant Williams stemmed the tide just before the half and gave Tennessee a 50-38 lead.
UT did a nice job of stopping App State’s momentum coming of the locker room, extending the lead to 17 by the under 16 timeout. The Vols kept the pedal to the medal, continuing to push the pace when the opportunities presented themselves. The Vols were cruising, leading 92-69 with 6.5 to go, and then things got a bit dicey. Turnovers, missed shots, and a couple of timely 3’s from Appalachian State brought the Mountaineers within 7 at 99-92 with 60 seconds to go. The Vols were ultimately able to salt it away.
Balance was the word of the night for the Vols with Hubbs’ 16 points leading 6 players in double figures (15 from Turner, 14 from Bowden on 4-8 shooting from deep, 13 from Alexander and Williams, 11 from Phillips). Ronshad Shabazz and Patrick Good paced the ‘Neers with 21 apiece.
A win over Appalachian State (#295 in Ken Pom’s rankings as of this writing) isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s a starting point. Tennessee forced 15 turnovers in the first half (though just 3 in the second). They kept it even-ish on the glass, assisted 26 times on 35 made field goals after only notching 4 dimes on Friday, and cut their own turnovers from 18 to 12. Baby steps.
With such a young team and so many roles still to sort out, the season will ebb and flow. Hopefully this win gives them some good vibes going into Monday’s Maui matchup against the mauling marauders from Madison, #9 Wisconsin.