Tennessee started (unofficially) their 2022-23 season with an impressive win over No. 2 Gonzaga. It won’t count towards their official record, but those paying attention certainly took notice tonight.
Here are the highlights.
- Tennessee started Zakai Zeigler, Santiago Vescovi, Julian Phillips, Olivier Nkamhoua and Uros Plavsic. Josiah-Jordan James was not available, due to injury.
- Julian Phillips picked up his second foul of the game with 17:30 to play in the first half. It was a couple of cheap ones, and you know Rick Barnes won’t be happy with that. Tyreke Key came off the bench to replace him.
- Jonas Aidoo was the first big off of the bench, coming in for Plavsic. He promptly knocked down a three.
- The first half was wild — the shotmaking was nothing short of spectacular on both sides. Tyreke Key poured in 16 points for Tennessee in the opening half, going 3-3 from deep. Santi hit a couple and Zeigler hit a couple. The only issue? Gonzaga hit a bunch too.
- The Zags took a 54-50 lead into the halftime break.
- Tennessee closed that gap and quickly took the lead to open the second quarter. It was Julian Phillips connecting on a three, bouncing back from a tough start.
- This game took on a bit of a NCAA Tournament feel, with both sides playing at a really high level offensively.
- Tobe Awaka saw his first minutes early in the second half, and Zeigler quickly found him down low for a two-handed dunk. Nice start for the former AAU teammates.
- The Tennessee offense was patient all night. No bad shots — everyone looked comfortable and in rhythm. That’s a pleasant surprise, coming so early in the season. Tyreke Key was a big difference maker all night long, seamlessly transitioning into this rotation. He looked like he’d been here for four years.
- Uros Plavsic looks different. We’ve seen flashes before, but he looked like a completely different player tonight against an elite team. He was confident offensively, starting his night a perfect 6-6 from the field.
- Tennessee led 81-70 with eight minutes to play.
- Santiago Vescovi hit a three to extend the lead out to 15 points. It was a tough night shooting for Vescovi, but Key and Zeigler made up for it. Julian Phillips made another to push it to 19 points.
- That five minute run put this one on ice for Tennessee. What an impressive start for this group — what a well-rounded game. Tyreke Key was awesome, Zakai Zeigler was in total control of the offense and all of the bigs showed up ready to play. And Tennessee did all this without Josiah-Jordan James.
- Final Score: Tennessee 99, Gonzaga 80.
- Key ended with 26 points, shooting 8-12 from the field and 4-7 from three-point range. As a team, Tennessee hit 13 of 28 shots from deep. That 46 percent clip was the difference, as Gonzaga’s second-half shooting fell off to just 29 percent from three-point range.
- Julian Phillips rebounded after a slow start to score 12 points, also draining a couple of threes.
- Zakai Zeigler ended with 13 points and eight assists. Olivier Nkamhoua was back to form, scoring 11 points and snagging 14 rebounds.
Tennessee will open the season on November 7th against Tennessee Tech.