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Tennessee moves to 2-0 with a 65-56 win over Cincinnati

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NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Volunteers are 2-0 with two less-than-pretty wins against quality opponents on their resume to this point. After the COVID delay, you can’t ask for much more as this team learns how to play together on the fly.

Tennessee is still playing catch-up with the rest of the college basketball world, and that much was obvious today from the start. The Volunteers started just 4-20 from the floor, despite manufacturing quality looks. The ball just wasn’t falling through the hoop, as simplistic as that sounds.

The Tennessee defense was able to pick up the slack on the other end, making things tough on the Cincinnati offense. The Bearcats were fighting for every look they got early on, which let the Volunteers ride out a cold shooting spell in the first half.

Finally, Santiago Vescovi and Keon Johnson found a little rhythm. Vescovi keyed a mini run, while Johnson got aggressive and created some offense of his own. Johnson, the five-star freshman, led Tennessee with seven points at the halftime break.

Cincinnati stayed alive with the three ball, powered by Jeremiah Davenport. He went 3-4 from long range, scoring 11 first half points to keep the Bearcats within six points. They had issues, however. Both starting post players entered the second half with three fouls, creating an obvious target for Tennessee to go after for the rest of the game. Key guard Keith Williams also picked up his third foul to open the second.

The Bearcats opened the final half of play more aggressive, getting to the rim on the first few possessions. They were able to erase a six point lead right off the bat, then matched the Volunteers over the next few trips.

Cincinnati reclaimed the lead on a David DeJulius layup with 14 minutes left to play. With the pressure on, Tennessee responded. Jaden Springer found John Fulkerson on an alley-oop, and Josiah-Jordan James got to the free throw stripe. James also locked in defensively, creating opportunities at the offense end for the Volunteers.

Meanwhile, Williams picked up foul No. 4, then Chris Vogt did the same. Suddenly two key players for Cincinnati were forced to the bench with over 11 minutes left in the game. As he did all day though, Jeremiah Davenport was there to pick up the slack. He hit another corner three, keeping the Bearcats close, down just 51-48.

A scoring drought for Tennessee came at an untimely moment, which let Cincinnati regain the advantage. DeJulius nailed a three to bring us to a 53-51 game, which was quickly erased at the other end by Fulkerson.

So we had a tie game with 5:40 to play.

The Bearcats bailed the Volunteers out after seemingly forcing a stop on the next possession, which gifted Fulkerson two free throws. Keon Johnson followed that up by getting to the rim and getting fouled, but missed both free throws.

DeJulius missed a three at the other end, and then Yves Pons connected on a turnaround jumper. Cincinnati center Chris Vogt fouled out right after that, which gave Tennessee the ball back with 2:28 to play.

Vescovi then found Springer on a cut to the basket to extend the Tennessee lead to 59-53.

Cincinnati didn’t quit though. Mika Adams-Woods converted an and-one to slash the lead right back to three points with 1:36 to play. A quick foul allowed Springer to hit two free throws to bring us back to a five point game.

DeJulius called his own number in an attempt to answer, but couldn’t score on Pons down low. Keith Williams came up empty on the next possession, and Fulkerson put this one away with a layup.

Final Score: Tennessee 65, Cincinnati 56

John Fulkerson led the way for Tennessee with 15 points today, adding 12 rebounds. Jaden Springer was the second leading scorer with 11 points. The Vols won this one at the free throw stripe, converting 25-30 attempts, compared to Cincinnati going just 4-7.

Tennessee is back in action on December 15th (Tuesday) against Appalachian State.