clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Tennessee Smothers Texas A&M 73-63

The Baby Vols grow up in a big way in the second half in College Station.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

We thought Tennessee would need to take advantage at the free throw line to give themselves a chance against another big, talented team. Turns out holding Texas A&M to 34.4% from the floor and forcing 16 turnovers is a pretty good strategy too.

All those near misses with Wisconsin, Oregon, North Carolina, and Gonzaga (combined records of those four plus Chattanooga: 57-9) gave this young Tennessee squad not just confidence, but relentlessness. The game was tied at halftime despite Tennessee getting only two points from Robert Hubbs, Texas A&M dominating the offensive glass, and Tennessee shooting just 2-of-11 from the three point line.

And here’s the thing: the Vols didn’t light the nets on fire in the second half. They were 5-of-15 from the arc after halftime, splashing several key ones without relying on it to carry them. Hubbs finished with only six points. Tennessee shot just 39.7% for the game, and before Lamonte Turner went a cool 8-of-8 at the line in the last two minutes, attempted only 17 free throws.

But what they did do, with stunning consistency, was frustrate Texas A&M with tenacious defense.

D.J. Hogg was a monster early and finished with 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting. The rest of the Aggies were just 14-of-45 (31.1%). Texas A&M had 10 assists and 16 turnovers. The Vols flipped that ratio.

Tennessee never let Texas A&M have the lead in the second half. They eased it out to six in the first eight minutes, then an unlikely duo created the necessary separation.

Detrick Mostella hit a three with 11:37 remaining to give Tennessee a 45-36 lead. When J.C. Hampton answered with a three on the other end, Kyle Alexander - a 44.4% free throw shooter - hit two at the stripe. Then he blocked a shot on the other end, leading to a Turner-to-Hubbs score to put the Vols up 10. Then Mostella grabbed a rebound, whipped a pass to Alexander, who threw down a dunk to put the Vols up 51-39 at 9:48.

Tennessee’s scoring dried up momentarily at that point, but it didn’t matter because A&M would go from 11:17 to 6:37 without a point.

Jordan Bowden hit one of those key threes to put the Vols up 17 with 8:15 to play. Mostella added another at 4:39 to give Tennessee a 63-43 lead. The Aggies dragged out the last few minutes with fouls and too much sloppiness from Tennessee, but the Vols never let them get closer than the final margin of 10.

Along the way Tennessee got 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 blocks from Grant Williams. Shembari Phillips added 10 points off the bench. Jordan Bone played a few minutes in the first half to knock some rust off, but the Vols got no points from him and still pulled away from the Aggies.

This Texas A&M team was good: #37 in KenPom coming in, the only team to beat Virginia Tech this year, three single-digit losses to three Top 25 Pac 12 teams. And the Vols played them to a draw in a tough first half, then simply took it to them to build a 20 point lead with four minutes to play. This young Tennessee squad was simply and absolutely the better team tonight.

How many times will they be the better team as SEC play unfolds? The Vols now have back-to-back road wins. Last year they won one (1) road game, at Mississippi State. Eight days ago Tennessee’s RPI was in the 150’s. Now it’s 77, 65th in KenPom. No one is trying to suggest the NCAA Tournament here, just saying: road wins are precious, and the Vols just doubled down against two good teams.

Arkansas (11-1 currently hosting Florida) in Knoxville is next on Tuesday, the second game in a tough opening stretch in conference play that had the Vols underdogs in eight of their first nine games in Sagarin. We’ll see how tonight might impact those numbers. But for now, we’ve seen a Tennessee team go from being close with good teams on the road to flat out dominating, and do it without a flashy percentage from the three-point line or a huge night from Robert Hubbs. The timetable for when Rick Barnes’ squad might be good is accelerating, significantly so tonight. This was one big win to open SEC play. We’ll see what else it can mean next week.

Great win. Go Vols.