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Tennessee pulls away late, beats Tennessee Tech 80-69

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NCAA Basketball: Tennessee Tech at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

On a Friday after Thanksgiving at home, it was a sleepy start for Tennessee against Tennessee Tech. The Volunteers were without Josiah-Jordan James and Justin Powell this afternoon, forcing Victor Bailey Jr. into the lineup.

Those two absences shortened up the bench, and really hurt Tennessee’s ability to shoot from the perimeter. The Vols began 0-10 from the three-point line, which predictably put them in a hole to start this game.

Tennessee Tech matched Tennessee in the first half, shooting 46 percent from the field to secure a lead. It was a small one at 36-35, but it was notable considering the 23 point spread from pregame. The Golden Eagles hit on 6-9 shots from three, capitalizing on a cold start from Tennessee.

The second half began with more of the same. Tech’s Jr. Clay continued his big game, pushing the Golden Eagles out to a 45-42 advantage. Thompson-Boling was beginning to get uncomfortable with 16 minutes left to play.

Finally with 14 minutes left, John Fulkerson put the Vols up 46-45 with a couple of free throws. Fulkerson was the one constant of Tennessee’s attack on Friday afternoon, forcing the issue and starting 4-4 from the free throw line.

After a quiet start from Zakai Zeigler, the freshman point guard made a big play going to the bucket to draw the foul. He was able to hit both free throws, setting Tennessee in motion with a little momentum for the first time all day. An 8-0 run brought the Volunteers to a 54-47 lead, providing a little breathing room midway through the second half.

Brandon Huntley-Hatfield got it rolling today, starting 6-6 from the field. He became the third Volunteer to hit double figures on the day, using his strength and size against the smaller Golden Eagle front court.

After a less than optimal start from Kennedy Chandler, the five-star freshman made up for it in the second half. Multiple dunks and steals paced Tennessee in the second half, sparking a run that finally put Tennessee Tech away.

Olivier Nkamhoua and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield put the cherry on top late. Tennessee went on to win 80-69.

It was not an impressive day for Tennessee, but in a trap spot the day after Thanksgiving, down two key players, you’ll take the win and move on to the next one.

Nkamhoua led the way for the Volunteers with 18 points, followed by Chandler with 15. Fulkerson added 14, while Santiago Vescovi finished with 13. Tennessee shot just 26 percent from three-point range.

The Vols will return to the floor on Tuesday, facing Presbyterian at Thompson-Boling.