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Rick Barnes explains Tennessee’s offensive improvement against Kansas

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It was a fun night.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee offense finally came to life on Saturday night against the 15th ranked Kansas Jayhawks. It’s been a long time coming, with the Volunteers putting together their first complete game since a blowout win on the road over Missouri a few weeks ago.

Those offensive struggles have been amplified by injuries to Jaden Springer and Santiago Vescovi, but both are now back and at least close to 100 percent once again. The result? The most efficient offensive game of the season — at least against a worthy opponent.

Yves Pons scored 17 points and really took the attack to Kansas. His confidence on the offensive end was obvious, as the senior really took matters into his own hands all night long. Springer added 13, while John Fulkerson and Victor Bailey Jr. scored 11 points each. Tennessee went on to win the game 80-61.

“We got a situation where we were not looking to shoot the ball a few weeks back and we weren’t taking open shots and forcing ourselves into late clock situations and turnovers,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said after the game. “Having 18 turnovers in back-to-back games was because guys didn’t take open shots. Last game we took shots that didn’t go in but tonight we took shots that did go in. The key is now guys know they have to take open shots. I think we have guys that can make shots, but we want them shooting uncontested shots and if we move the ball around like we’re capable of we’ll make our fair share of shots.”

Tennessee ended up shooting a ridiculous 61 percent (8-13) from three-point range. You might say that they were simply due for a night like that after shooting 15 percent against Mississippi State and 16 percent against Florida. Kansas shooting 25 percent (6-24) from deep obviously helped the cause as well.

What changed? Springer back in the lineup obviously helps because he might just be the most capable creator on the team. His ability to drive and either finish at the rim or find someone else for an open shot is a big asset for this group.

Another factor is a more aggressive Yves Pons, as well as Josiah-Jordan James. James finished the night with just nine points, but he connected on three of his five attempts from long range. Keeping those two involved in the offense and confident is a must moving forward.

“I think that’s a big key when guys take open shots,” Barnes said. “I think it’s really important. I think we have too many guys that work hard at shooting, that have been turning down shots that lead to turnovers. Tonight, when we weren’t playing great basketball and again, you’re playing the clock a little bit. We were stagnant with the ball and just not doing what we needed to do. We will learn from that. We are a very unselfish team, sometimes to a fault to be quite honest with you.”

Rick Barnes is still searching for consistency with this group, but Saturday night was a pretty good example of what things can look like when it’s all clicking. They’ll look to build on this momentum on Tuesday with a trip to Ole Miss, before taking a trip to Lexington to face Kentucky next Saturday night.