Despite a slow start on offense, the SEC/Big-12 Challenge proved to be the exact opposite of a challenge for the Tennessee Volunteers.
Even though the West Virginia Mountaineers led by as much as 12 in the first half, the Vols never batted an eye as they used dominate defense en route to a 83-66 victory.
It was the first time the Vols have won 14 straight games since 1922 and it’s now been 65 days since they lost to the Kansas Jayhawks.
Jordan Bone started off the scoring, nailing a mid-range jumper to give the Vols the 2-0 lead. Both teams struggled offensively early. UT began 1/8 from the floor (including 0/4 from three) and West Virginia didn’t get on the board until 17:17 in the first h alf.
But the Mountaineers compiled an 8-0 run that was highlighted by an incredible three-point shot by Chase Harler as the shot clock expired. Lamonte Turner answered right back, cutting the lead to 8-5.
Jordan McCabe hit another three to push the lead to 11-5 but both teams fell back into an offensive lull. Turnovers and sloppy play was abundant and neither team could find any type of rhythm.
An Andrew Gordon steal off Grant Williams set up another three, this time from Lamonte West. The Vols then turned the ball over again after Bone attempted a behind-the-back pass, only to have it bounce off the back of his heel.
Tennessee had to watch Wesley Harris dribble the ball down the court and slam it home and increase the lead to 16-5. West Virginia was now on a 16-3 run and the Vols hadn’t made a bucket in over four minutes.
A Jordan Bowden jumper ended the drought and cut the lead to 16-7, but West Virginia kept making ridiculous three-point shots. James Bolden drained one from the corner while fading back to give the Mountaineers a 19-7 lead.
It was the largest deficit of the season for the Volunteers. West Virginia was 5/8 from three, but just 2/6 down low. If the Vols could hold up in the post, then the Mountaineers were bound to start missing shots.
That began to hold true as West Virginia went on their own four minute scoring drought while the Vols went on a 7-0 run to make it a 19-14 game with 7:38 left in the first half.
The Vols would end up extending their run to a 17-0 dismemberment and would take a 24-19 lead in the process. The Mountaineers were absolutely dreadful on the offensive side of the ball. They missed 13 straight shots, committed five turnovers, and didn’t make a single basket for over 9:30 minutes of play.
Derek Culver finally ended the Mountaineers’ misery with a quick layup with 1:30 left in the first half, but Turner ended any sliver of happiness as he nailed his second three-pointer of the game to give the Vols a six point lead, 27-21.
Tennessee finished the final 10:00 of the first half on a 24-2 run and led 31-21 at halftime. Rick Barnes’ squad shot just 38.4% from the floor, but it wasn’t as nearly as bad when compared to Bob Huggins’ team that hit 8/28 of their shots.
The Vols continued to excel at the charity stripe, shooting 80% and more importantly, they kept the Mountaineers off the line (0/2).
West Virginia had just four points in the paint and had ten turnovers. They received a solid effort off the bench though. outscoring Tennessee 11-2.
UT needed to come out and have a crisp, clean first five minutes on offense. There would be no reason to think they’d leave Thompson Boling Arena without a win if they could get the offense on track.
After going 4/7 from the floor over the final 4:45 of the first half, the Vols picked up right where they left off, making the first two shots of the second half to push the lead to 35-21.
A big three-pointer from the Mountaineers’ Chase Harler and a quick bucket from Esa Ahmad gave the Mountaineers a bit of life and cut the lead to nine points, 35-26.
But every time WVU made a play, the Vols answered right back. Jordan Bone made a beautiful pass across the court to a streaking Lamonte Turner for the easy layup and the 37-26 lead.
The offense was rolling and the Vols were starting to look like the Vols. The orange started to shine even brighter after Jordan Bowden nailed a three to put the Vols up 42-29 with 15:52 to play.
The bad news continued for West Virginia right after as Bolden - the team’s leading scorer - went down awkwardly and had to leave the game. It was a major blow for the team and basically put the Mountaineers under for the rest of the game.
Things began to crumbly quickly after Bolden’s exit. A Jermaine Haley turnover led to another Bowden dunk that put the crowd on their feet and gave Tennessee a 49-33 lead, the largest lead of the game.
Bowden nailed another three and West Virginia’s offense just couldn’t get anything going due to the suffocating Tennessee defense. Four turnovers in two minutes with one made basket is not going to win any games in the NCAA.
Another bad moment for West Virginia came with about 12:41 to play. What appeared to originally be a Grant Williams turnover looked to be a flagrant foul on the Mountaineers’ Wesley Harris. After a review, it was determined that it was a flagrant one after Harris’ hand smacked Williams on the head.
But Yves Pons had been called for a foul after the Williams’ turnover, so West Virginia got to shoot free throws as well. It didn’t work out for them, however, as Culver missed his only attempt.
Williams hit both of his and the Vols were up, 54-35.
Admiral Schofield hit a three from the top of the key with 6:54 left to move the lead into the 20-point threshold, 69-49. At this point, West Virginia simply couldn’t keep up with the Vols.
Another questionable flagrant foul was called on Schofield after his elbow made contact with Harris’ face. While the elbow did connect, Harris did a nice job selling out the flop to get the call. WVU was able to take advantage of the call and cut the lead to 73-57.
It didn’t matter, though. Grant Williams was fouled while making a basket and was able to convert the three-point play to put the Vols back up 76-57 with 4:26 left in the game.
The Mountaineers never even sniffed another chance at a comeback and the Vols ended up winning their 14th straight game, 83-66.
They travel to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks this Tuesday, January 29th. Tip-off is set for 6:30 PM EST.
You can check out the final stats and score here.
Stats From The Game
- After finishing the first half with 10/29 shooting from the floor, the Vols finished the game 29/61, going 19/32 in the second half. West Virginia had a good half as well, shooting 16/27 in the second half after going just 8/28 in the first half.
- The Vols started 0/4 from 3pt range, but finished the game 6/16. They shot 50% for the rest of the game after the slow start.
- West Virginia’s bench doubled Tennessee’s production by a 32-16 margin.
- Both teams combined for 40 turnovers and 33 assists. West Virginia had 24 turnovers by themselves.
- Lamonte Turner led the team with 23 points, but Tennessee had four players score 14 points or more.