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Santiago Vescovi gives Tennessee life in debut, but has plenty of room to grow

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A long way to go, but his future is bright.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

It didn’t take long for Santiago Vescovi to make an impact in Knoxville. The four-star freshman point guard was cleared on Friday after joining the team last weekend. After going through a handful of practices this week, Rick Barnes tossed Vescovi in the starting lineup.

The results? Understandably mixed, but for the most part positive.

We wrote last week that Tennessee needed to find an aggressor if they wanted a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. After one game of Vescovi, it’s probably fair to say that they’ve found one. The 6-2 guard made an instant impact as a shooter, making his first two attempts from three-point range. He ended up hitting six of nine shots from deep on the day, putting up 18 points in his first game.

So not only did Vescovi start in his first game after a week of practice, he tied for the team lead in scoring with Yves Pons, and led Tennessee with a 36 percent usage rate in 32 minutes of play. Talk about being thrown into the fire, huh?

“I think everyone saw that he’s a guy that’s got a chance to be a terrific player,” Barnes said of Vescovi’s debut. “He’s a guy that wants to distribute the ball. He’ll learn, he’ll watch tape. If he’s anything like he was watching tape to learn our offense, he’s going to be a good basketball player.”

Now for the bad.

Vescovi very much looked like a freshman point guard playing in his first game today — again — very understandable. He was credited with nine turnovers on the day, something that we know Rick Barnes won’t stand for. But you know what? He was at least trying to make things happen.

Tennessee’s offense had been non-existent for the better part of three weeks now. Jordan Bowden and Josiah James weren’t getting it done as primary creators for Barnes, making the decision to play Vescovi even easier. He didn’t make a scoring impact in the paint, but he was able to get inside and find a couple of open shooters, powering the offense.

LSU’s size and speed seemed to slow him down a bit and force him into some bad situations. That size and speed was also problematic on the defensive end for Vescovi as well. Rick Barnes blamed those defensive and turnover issues on fatigue.

“His turnovers hurt, he knows it,” Barnes said after the loss. “But a lot of that had to do with fatigue. That was probably my fault, leaving him out there too long. He looked tired.”

“He’s gonna make some mistakes and we’re going to have to live with them because he’s trying to start the season in the middle of the season.”

Overall, it was an encouraging day. It feels like Tennessee can only get better from this point with an offensive creator like Vescovi being given time to figure things out and learn the offense. He’s not going to shoot 66 percent from three every game, but he is going to put take the bull by the horns and try to keep the offense moving. That alone is a step in the right direction.

Tennessee doesn’t look like an NCAA Tournament team right now and Vescovi probably isn’t going to change that by himself. But we got a little glimpse of the future today, and it looked like a lot of fun.