For a couple of weeks now, Rick Barnes has opted to keep sophomore wing Yves Pons in the starting lineup, despite his offensive struggles. Despite his status as a starter, Pons has seen a significant decrease in minutes over the last several games. He’s logged over 14 minutes just one time over the last six games, prompting some to ask, why is he still starting?
Well Tennessee shook things up on Saturday against West Virginia, inserting Lamonte Turner into the starting five for the first time this season. He responded by leading the team in scoring, hitting a couple of key jumpers when the Vols were down early.
Is this something you can expect to see going forward? Maybe, but according to Rick Barnes, it was a simple adjustment to West Virginia’s gameplan.
“We felt like they might start the game trying to take Jordan Bone out to where we couldn’t get the ball to him, and we didn’t want to put pressure on Admiral Schofield and Yves Pons trying to think they had to handle the ball,” Barnes said after the game. “That’s the only reason we did it. It was for him to have the ball longer and to start the game with another guard in.”
Turner ended up playing 33 minutes, going 8-10 from the field and 3-5 from deep. He scored 23 points in total, proving to be the spark that started the fire when Tennessee found themselves down 12 points. With Bob Huggins’ history with the press, the decision to play smaller and get another ball handler on the court was an obvious one.
“It kind of helped us with the rotation between the guards a little bit better,” Barnes said. “It helped us fight back. I’ve said before, we feel like we’ve got seven guys that can score at any point in time. We’ll look at it and think of what we need to do to get ready for our opponents.”
It’s just the latest example of Tennessee’s adaptability and depth. With options like Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Yves Pons, Tennessee can play a number of different ways. The pressure was put on the Tennessee guards on Saturday, as West Virginia clamped down on Grant Williams and denied him the ball.
Thankfully for Tennessee, Turner stepped up, along with Bowden who supplied 15 points. At the end of the day, who starts doesn’t matter. The important thing is, Tennessee has legitimate options and can win a few different ways. That’s probably the biggest difference in this year’s team vs. last year’s.