I don’t know if it was a regression (progression...?) to the mean, the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena or just a better shooting night, but the Vols rode a 50-percent, first-half three-point shooting mark to a 31-point victory on Wednesday night against Florida Gulf Coast.
Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes switched up the starting lineup for tonight’s affair, and the Vols tipped off with Tyreke Key, Santiago Vescovi, Julian Phillips, Josiah-Jordan James and Oliver Nkamhoua on the floor.
James hit the Vols’ first shot of the game, and then Santi got right with two-straight unassisted 3s. Both Nkamhoua and Phillips got involved with a pair of free throws around the 13-minute mark, then James hit a pair of his own before Nkamhoua drilled a wide-open look from deep that gave the Vols a 18-9 lead about halfway through the first half.
James hit his second 3 of the game — after the two squads exchanged a couple missed shots and turnovers — and it wasn’t just pretty, it was purrrty. He caught the ball a couple feet behind the arc off a screen by Phillips and let it fly with zero hesitation.
Sophomore big man Jonas Aidoo no-rimmed a deep 3 late in the shot clock, and Vescovi managed to corral the offensive rebound and put it back up for two points amongst the trees down low.
The Vols went three minutes without a basket after that — a stretch that included a foul on Aidoo, a blocked layup from freshman big man Tobe Awaka, a turnover and subsequent foul from Ziegler and a missed 3 by Key.
Phillips broke the drought by making one of two free throws, and Nkamhoua got a steal that turned into a Ziegler 3 on the other end. James hit another 3 a few possessions later and finished the half with 12 points on 3-6 shooting that included 2-4 from deep. Vescovi and Nkamhoua nearly hit the double-figure scoring mark in the first 20 minutes, with eight and nine points, respectively.
The Vols took a pretty casual 37-20 lead into halftime, thanks to a collective 6-12 from deep and 13-20 from the FT line.
Phillips hit two FTs to kick off the scoring after the break, but Mashack was really the catalyst of the Vols’ early, second-half play. He scored six points in the first four minutes of the second half — four of which came off plays when Nkamhoua was doubled in the post, and instead of panicking and turning it over like he did against Colorado, Nkamhoua kept his head and the ball high and found Mashack cutting to the hoop. Mashack finished both opportunities with resounding, crowd-pleasing dunks.
Around the 11-minute mark, Tennessee had hit eight of its 14 shots attempts, while Florida Gulf Coast had three less make and three less attempts. The second half defense wasn’t quite up to the standard from the first half, when the Vols held FGC to 25-percent shooting from the field, but FGC committed nine fouls and five turnovers that helped the Vols extend their lead out to 25 points by the 7:30-ish mark. Nkamhoua hit a couple free throws and a sweet jumper to get that lead to 25 and overall displayed the kinda versatile performance that gets Vols’ fans excited when he has these kinda games. He was playing the best basketball of his career before the injury last year that ended his season 22 games in.
Obviously, the level of competition plays into factor here, but I’m glad Nkamhoua bounced back from the really, really bad game against Colorado.
Mashack flashed again around the six-minute mark with a couple made free throws and a take to the basket in which he displayed a much tighter handle than he had last season. That’s gonna be something to watch over the season — if he can be a to-the-hoop slasher, it opens up more playing time for him and gives the Vols a remedy to something that’s looked like a deficiency so far this year in their inability to take the ball from the perimeter and score at the rim.
THINGS OF NOTE:
- BJ Edwards didn’t get into the game until the three-minute mark, and immediately made an entry pass that eventually led to an Awaka dunk. I’m not sure Edwards would get the hockey assist on the play or not, but I wanted to see him play more than three minutes tonight. We need to see what we’ve got with Edwards sooner rather than later.
- Four Vols scored in double figures: Nkamhoua and James led the way with 18 points, Phillips had 11 (on a 9-12 effort from the FT line) and Mashack scored 10 in just 22 minutes.
- Tyreke Key had six points on 2-5 shooting and went 0-3 from deep.
- Tennessee had 16 assists on 24 made baskets — a 67-percent assist rate. That would rank second in the NCAA based on last year’s stats if extrapolated over the entire season
- Awaka had five rebounds — three of which were offensive — which was second most of the team, and he did it in seven minutes of playing time.
Tennessee plays Butler next Wednesday, 11/23/22 at 7 PM EST.