Finally, a couple of weeks later than we thought, Tennessee was able to get its basketball season off and running with a win over the Colorado Buffaloes. It was a low-scoring affair that Colorado kept close, but the Volunteers never lost control.
Read Nick’s takes from last night for more if you haven’t already.
It was a game filled with unknowns with so many missed practice sessions for Tennessee. Understandably so, a few players — notably Yves Pons and John Fulkerson — showed a little rust. It was also a challenging time to mix in a couple of elite freshmen. Neither Keon Johnson or Jaden Springer started the game. Instead, Barnes opted to go with Vescovi-Bailey-James-Pons-Fulkerson instead, leaning on experience and time within the system.
“I think we are still trying to figure out the best way to get a rotation going for our team,” Barnes said after the win. “That is what we have to figure out.”
Bailey was an instant spark plug for the Vols, connecting on a couple of three-pointers to get Tennessee off and running. His experience was obviously something that Barnes wanted to take advantage of on opening night. Remember, this is a guy that has been in the program for over a year now, so he’s already up to speed.
Starting Bailey also let Barnes ease in Johnson and Springer, who quickly entered the game in the first half off of the bench.
“I look at it and I knew because of Colorado and the respect that we have for them, that we would have to play some guys some heavy minutes,” Barnes said. “Right now what you don’t want to do is let those young guys get out there and make so many mistakes that it lingers in their mind for a long time.”
Springer finished with six points after going 2-2 from three-point range. Johnson added four points and really flashed defensively, but also served up five turnovers. Springer finished with nine minutes played, while Johnson played 13.
After the game, Barnes praised their defensive efforts — Springer in particular.
“Defensively, I thought Jaden was good,” Barnes said. “Keon had his moments, too, but then he had some bad moments where he turned it over and panicked and threw it away again. Those guys will be fine because they are competitive. Those guys have been hurt from the shutdown more than anybody. They were getting in a pretty good groove, then they missed two weeks.”
Josiah-Jordan James, Santiago Vescovi and Victor Bailey all played over 30 minutes. Is that something we’ll see going forward? Probably not. Springer and Johnson will only get more time as they get more comfortable. As Barnes said, they were more affected by the shutdown than anyone because they’re the ones learning the entire system on the fly.
Tennessee’s next matchup will come on Saturday against Cincinnati (12:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network Alternate).