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Three Things: LSU

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A few things went right for Tennessee, but several issues remain.

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

Tennessee dropped its second game in a row, at home, against LSU this past weekend. The Tigers beat the Vols 78-64, and here are three things.

THE FLYIN’ URUGUAYAN

Forgive me for, uhh, borrowing and modifying Titans’ QB Marcus Mariota’s nickname, but with the emergence of Ryan Tannehill, it doesn’t really seem like Mariota is gonna be needing the name anytime soon.

So, I’ve adopted it for Vescovi, but it’s not original and honestly I’m not really crazy about it. If you have any suggestions, let ‘em, uh, fly.

Vescovi started at point guard for the Vols in his first-ever college basketball game just hours after being cleared by the NCAA. He turned the ball over the first two times he touched it, and in that moment, I absolutely questioned Barnes’ decision of starting a freshman, mid-year enrollee just days into his college career.

“There’s NO WAY this kid is ready yet,”

— Me, known idiot, to myself after Vescovi’s second turnover.

Vescovi went on to hit two 3s in a row and finished the game 6-9 from deep. He didn’t hit a shot inside the arc, so he finished with 18 long-distance points but added six rebounds and four assists. He showed some advanced vision and nifty playmaking ability to go with the sharp-shooting from 3-point land. This no-look, behind-the-back assist to Fulkerson drew some serious applause from the TBA faithful.

His release looks a bit slow — honestly it kinda reminds me of a set shot from the days of black-and-white NBA highlight reels.

He also doesn’t get a lot of elevation on his jumpers, but it’s hard to argue with the 67 percent number he put up. One game is far too small of a sample size to make any real determination, but he ignited the recently stagnant Tennessee offense in his 32 minutes and put to rest any concerns, for now, about his readiness for NCAA competition.

It wasn’t all rainbows and lollipops for the newbie point guard. I mentioned the two TOs he had at the beginning of the game, and well, he added seven more through the rest of the game for a total of nine. Rick Barnes attributed them to fatigue, and I’ll buy that to an extent, but there were at least a few where his defender just swiped the ball from him. I think that’s just an adjustment to the speed of a new level of competition. A cross-over dribble that used to work isn’t necessarily going to work anymore — he’s gonna have to tighten up his handle. That’ll come with time. It was an exciting debut for Vescovi, and hopefully his play frees up Jordan Bowden and Josiah James.

BOWDEN’S STRUGGLES

This is probably the last time I single out Bowden and his struggles this season. Or, at least, it’s the last time I use a whole segment on just his poor play. It’s getting a bit repetitive, and I don’t know how much more I can say about what’s going on here.

He went 1-12 from the field against LSU, and it was his worst shooting performance so far this year. It was the second time he’s hit just one field goal in a game this season, but it’s the fourth time in six games that he’s been in single figures scoring the ball. He’s shooting 35 percent in the months of December and January, and he’s made just one 3-point shot in five of the last six games.

On Twitter, Wes Rucker indicated he thinks Bowden is putting too much pressure on himself. I’d say he’s not totally wrong, but there’s likely a litany of reasons for the slump. The Vols are now 2-4 in games during which Bowden scores less than 10 points with conference play just getting started. The team shot better against LSU than they have recently, so hopefully that sustains and takes some of the scoring pressure off the senior guard. The rest of the season isn’t going to go well if he doesn’t get it figured out.

WE BALL THE 3-BALL

Tennessee shot 50 percent from beyond the arc as a team Saturday, and it marked the second-highest percentage from deep so far this year. The Vols hit seven 3s against Jacksonville State and six against Wisconsin but hadn’t hit more than five 3s in a game before that since the Alabama State game in late November.

In the reality of post-Lamonte Turner basketball, the Tennessee offense needs to hit the 3 at a respectable rate. Nobody on the roster has shown an ability to penetrate, breakdown a defense and create points by scoring or driving and dishing. All in all, the ways to score the ball seem to be rather limited right now.

The Vols rank 10th in the SEC in free throws made with 177, and they sit even lower, 12th, for free throws attempted. That could mean lots of different things, but to start, it’s an indication that the team isn’t getting to the basket enough offensively.

I haven’t found any site that keeps up with points in the paint, but by my count, Tennessee’s been outscored in the paint nine times in 13 games. Both John Fulkerson and Yves Pons are averaging more than 10 points per game, but some of Pons’ points come from the 3-point line, and the Vols don’t have another reliable scorer inside.

So Tennessee really needs for the 3-ball to keep dropping. It was nice to see Vescovi go off, but at this juncture we have no idea if that’s going to be closer to the statistical norm or an outlier.