Tennessee — somehow — beat the Georgia Bulldogs tonight. After trailing for virtually the entire game, the Volunteers drew even with the Bulldogs mid-way through the second half. Tennessee trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half.
“We stayed with it,” Barnes said. “I thought our full-court pressure helped us in the second half. We turned them over a little bit and scored on most of those.”
Barnes is right there. Tennessee won the turnover battle, 11-4. The Vols scored 13 points off of those turnovers.
“I walked off the court after the first half thinking, we didn’t play bad. Those guys just played really good. We just had to grind it out. That’s what we do and that’s who we are.”
Barnes criticized his team for their performance a couple of weeks ago in Athens, saying Tennessee got out-toughed. That was a sticking point for Barnes and his staff heading into this one.
“We showed them where and why they got out-toughed,” Barnes said. “We’ve got to take away those baskets as much as possible. Yante Maten is a terrific player. You have to love and respect him as a player. The difference was, we were much tougher in the final seven or eight minutes than we were down in Athens.”
Tennessee held Maten to 5-15 shooting on the day. He scored 18 points, seven of which came from the free throw stripe.
The difference tonight was on the defensive end. After a tough first half where Georgia seemingly made everything, Tennessee clamped down in the second half. The Bulldogs had zero rhythm down the stretch. A couple of big time three pointers from Lamonte Turner didn’t hurt either.
“I told them not to have any fear,” Barnes said. “Let’s go play — it’s a basketball game. They knew what they were playing for. You want to be in this position. If you want to be a champion now, you have to win. You can’t give one away now.”
Barnes then took some time to reflect on where his team was after last season.
“We knew we had to make some changes after last year. We spent time on the track running. That’s something that I haven’t done with a team in 15 years. We were going to find out who really wanted to be a part of this. We expect to win and we expect to be playing in March.”
So after going 15-19 and 16-16 in his first two seasons at Tennessee, Barnes wraps up this regular season with a 22-7 record. Every player outside of James Daniel is expected to return next year, too.
Tennessee will have to wait until Friday to play in St. Louis. They will face the winner of LSU — Mississippi State at 7 PM eastern.