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Tennessee bounces back to beat North Carolina, 89-72

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina vs Tennessee Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

After a dud of a performance on Saturday against a really good Villanova team, how would this Tennessee group respond? After all, they still haven’t played a lot of basketball together, and a few young pieces are still finding their legs.

Early on, the response was good. Tennessee jumped out to early control of the game against the 18th ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. Justin Powell got the start in place of Josiah-Jordan James, who was ruled out with flu like symptoms. Powell got the first bucket of the game.

It was a balanced attack for Tennessee, coming off of a game where Santiago Vescovi was the only offense. Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and Zakai Zeigler were involved early, each adding four quick points. Vescovi and Olivier Nkamhoua added early three-pointers, while Kennedy Chandler added another and pushed Tennessee out to a 33-27 lead late in the first half.

Brady Manek kept North Carolina competitive in the first half, connecting on 3-6 from deep to score 13 early points.

Tennessee took a 39-32 lead into the halftime break.

The Vols came out hot to start the second half, with Kennedy Chandler finding John Fulkerson for a couple of quick buckets. Suddenly, Tennessee was in control with a 12 point lead at 48-36. Uros Plavsic and Justin Powell added to that lead, pushing Tennessee out to a 54-41 advantage.

Zeigler took over for Chandler and Tennessee didn’t miss a beat. Two straight assists, including an alley-oop to Nkamhoua, pushed the Vols’ lead even higher with 14 minutes to play. Zeigler then drilled a three — and then another.

The diamond in the rough prospect was showing us something for the first time, sustaining the Tennessee lead with Chandler on the bench.

Barnes then put all three point guards on the floor together — Zeigler, Chandler and Vescovi. It was an interesting wrinkle with Zeigler sizzling with confidence and JJJ unavailable. That lineup extended the lead.

Chandler buried a three with eight minutes to play, giving Tennessee a 72-57 advantage. They were on cruise control from there.

The Tennessee offense went missing on Saturday, but they were on full display on Sunday. Zeigler was a shot of energy, pouring in 18 points to lead Tennessee.

The Volunteers rebounded nicely, beating North Carolina 89-72. They controlled the entire game, getting contributions from all over the floor for a convincing victory. Kennedy Chandler scored 14 and added eight assists, Fulkerson scored 13, while Vescovi put up another 17.

Tennessee shot 9-20 from three point range, just one day after shooting 17 percent. They won the rebounding battle 38-30, while committing only 10 turnovers. The Vols shot 54 percent from the field.

Tennessee will return to action on Friday, set to face Tennessee Tech at 3 p.m. ET.