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Tennessee will go as far as Grant Williams can take them

The stud sophomore is the key to Tennessee’s success.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

As Grant Williams goes, so does Tennessee. The stud sophomore is the key to Tennessee’s success on the hardwood this season. If you needed further confirmation, you got it last night. A career high 37 points paced the Volunteers’ offensive attack, allowing them to come back from a double digit deficit on Tuesday night against the Vanderbilt Commodores.

“I was just making shots,” Williams said after the game. “It was one of those nights where I was making shots. It happens.”

Williams was 12-20 (60%) from the field tonight. Grant said that he thought Vanderbilt did a good job defending him. He’s too humble of a kid to admit this, so I’ll say it for him. The Commodores had no answer for him. He took it to them down low, drawing fouls and finishing plays at the rim.

He also hit his free throws, connecting on 13-15 from the charity stripe.

“I don’t know if I had a feeling, but I did tell them a couple of times just to give me the ball and I’d make it happen,” Williams said. Down the stretch, the offense ran through Grant as Rick Barnes let the sophomore put the game on ice. Vanderbilt tried doubling him, but Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden and Admiral Schofield were able to take advantage of the space that created.

“We planned for that,” Grant said of the double teams. “We thought they would start it earlier, but it didn’t come until we got going. We practiced it, but we had two turnovers off that action – which can’t happen.”

Rick Barnes is notorious for being hard on his guys in press availability, but he knows what Williams did last night was special.

“He’s good (laughing) — he’s really good down there,” Barnes said. “When he gets it deep he goes quick. We spent a lot of time expecting double teams, not just on Grant but on Admiral. He’s going to continue to get double teamed. Our guards understand that (Grant) will normally make the right play.”

One noticeable difference tonight for Grant was the lack of fouls. When Tennessee is in trouble, it’s usually because Williams is in foul trouble. It’s been an issue that has plagued the Vols over the last month, but it didn’t happen tonight. He was able to turn in a full night of work and the results speak for themselves.

He appreciated the effort from the referees. “These officials were amazing,” Williams said. “Two of them were final four officials. They did their job tonight. It was pretty even, so what more can you ask for?”

I know Tennessee fans are asking for more nights like this from the Tennessee star. Fouls are going to happen in today’s game, but it was nice to see him able to play like he wanted for a full game.

Too many times we’ve seen him forced to the bench early with quick, questionable fouls called. When he’s on the bench, Tennessee is just a different team.

Williams is now averaging 17.2 per contest, the clear catalyst of this offensive attack. Better teams will be able to more effectively neutralize him to some extent, so it was nice to see Admiral, Bowden and Bone really answer the bell when it was forced out of his hands.

Through 15 games, this team has a clear identity with Williams and Schofield. If Jordan Bone continues his upward trajectory, I feel pretty good about this group as we inch toward tournament season.