Tennessee broke its two-game losing streak and beat Jacksonville State 75-53 Saturday.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair with both teams suffering multiple-minute scoring droughts, though the Vols held the lead for about 17 of the 20 minutes of game time.
The offensive woes that have plagued the Vols in their two most recent games, both losses, resurfaced in the first half against the Gamecocks. Tennessee shot just 12-32 from the field (37.5 percent) and 3-13 (23.1 percent) from 3-point range. In the middle of the first half, Tennessee went 7-plus minutes without a bucket and was outscored 10-0 during that stretch.
Coach Rick Barnes has made it clear recently that he wanted Tennessee to get the ball inside more, and the Vols attempted to combat the poor shooting early with paint touches for John Fulkerson and Yves Pons. Despite the focus on getting the ball inside, the Vols were out-rebounded 19-16 and outscored 14-12 in the paint.
The second half was a much better showing for the Vols. Tennessee shot nearly 60 percent from the field and scored 24 of its 45 second-half points in the paint. Lamonte Turner was the primary initiator for Tennessee — it looked like he was hesitant to shoot, even when he was very open — and finished with 11 assists and eight points.
After the game, Barnes commented about the teams’ lack of energy in the first half, and it seemed like he addressed that with the team at halftime. The effort was noticeably better on the defensive end during the final 20 minutes of the game. The Vols held Jacksonville State to just nine total field goals and 32 percent shooting.
Tennessee won the battle on the boards 19-14 and took better care of the basketball in the second half. The Vols had 15 assists to just 4 turnovers in the game’s final period.
Four Vols scored in double figures (Josiah James, John Fulkerson, Jordan Bowden and Yves Pons), and Tennessee went a perfect 11-11 at the free-throw line.
Bowden led all scorers with 19 points. It was a nice bounce-back game for Bowden after scoring 21 combined points in the last three games.
Pons was an absolute monster around the rim against the Gamecocks. He set a new career high with six blocks, and several of them were of the eye-popping, oh-my-god did-he-really-just-do-that variety. I managed to get one of them on replay:
YVES PONS IS SUPERMAN'S REAL SECRET IDENTITY pic.twitter.com/FvRVEJXJS3— Nick Carner (@_NicoSuave_) December 21, 2019
The Vols don’t play again until after Christmas when they welcome the Wisconsin Badgers to Thompson- Boling Arena on Dec. 28th. That game is a 1:30 p.m. tip off and will be televised on CBS.