In a game the Vols had to have to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, Tennessee did exactly what it needed to do. The Vols never allowed the 7-18 Tigers to threaten, jumping out to a 16-3 lead and never letting Missouri get closer than 10 the rest of the day. The lead was 13 at halftime and swelled to as much as 24 in the second half before Tennessee closed it out at 90-70.
Tennessee’s best basketball again came from its best players. Robert Hubbs looked quite healthy in scoring 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting with eight rebounds. Missouri’s only answer for Grant Williams was to foul him, as he finished with 25 points including 12-of-13 from the stripe. It was a similar story with Admiral Schofield: 17 points including 7-of-10 at the line. With Jordan Bowden struggling with an illness, Shembari Phillips stepped up with 10 points and three assists.
Assist-to-turnover ratio continues to be a strong barometer for this team, as today the Vols had 18 assists on 26 made baskets with only eight turnovers, and little was unforced as Missouri had seven steals.
This didn’t help Tennessee in RPI thanks to Missouri’s record, as the Vols drop to 51 after the final buzzer and UT’s strength of schedule slips to seventh nationally. But it was exactly the win the Vols needed, not only to avoid a crippling loss but to pad the overall win total. The Vols get to 15-12 and 7-7 in league play; the last two years Tennessee has gone 6-12 and 7-11 in the SEC, so progress is about to get tangible with four games to go. LSU and Missouri are clearly the bottom of the league, but coming into today there were seven teams between 7-5 and 5-8, and two of those are going to join the Tigers on Wednesday in Nashville. Aside from the bubble, this win helps improve the worst-case scenario and puts more distance between Tennessee and the play-in games: Auburn and Texas A&M are both 5-8 and play each other today, and Georgia and Vanderbilt will have to beat Kentucky and South Carolina, respectively, to avoid moving to 6-8 today.
Today’s win makes Wednesday’s visit from the Commodores as important as any game the Vols have played this year. Getting those wins over Kentucky and Kansas State and all those road wins - including one in Nashville - helped get the Vols to this point on the bubble, where they can continue to control their own destiny by beating Vanderbilt again. Tennessee took care of business today. We’ll have much more important business to attend to Wednesday night.