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RECAP: Behind 25 points from Julian Phillips, Tennessee beats USC 73-66 in overtime

What a showing from Tennessee’s talented freshman

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Southern California at Tennessee Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Julian Phillips has arrived.

Tennessee’s five-star freshman dropped 25 points on 7-13 shooting (1-1 from 3, 10-12 from the free-throw line) and had eight rebounds (second-most on the team) as the key cog in the Vols’ 73-66, overtime win against USC.

The first five-ish minutes of the game belonged to Phillips and de-facto point guard Tyreke Key, as Phillips hit his first 3 of the year and got to the line to for two free throws (he made both — he’s proving to be an excellent free-throw shooter). The duo combined for all of Tennessee’s first eight points.

Jahmai Mashack continued to impress with the step he’s taken with his handle. He was one of the first players off the bench and immediately hit two layups by taking the ball straight to the hoop.

Tennessee led 16-11 at the under-12 media timeout despite USC holding Zakai Ziegler and Santiago Vescovi scoreless through the first eight-ish minutes. The Vols defense held USC to just 33 percent shooting and forced three turnovers while not turning it over once to start the game.

As soon as I went bragging on Mashack, he got stripped trying to drive into USC’s zone defense and then the defense gave up an easy two on he other end.

Overall, the Vols handled USC’s extended 2-3 zone fairly well — we saw some good big-to-big passing from Uros Plavsic and Olivier Nkamhoua. Tennessee struggled on the boards after that under-12 timeout got outrebounded 6-2 from 11:48- 5:22, while turning it over three times and letting USC cut the Vols’ lead to 24-22.

Two Phillips free throws got immediately canceled out by a USC 3 from Boogie Ellis. Ellis sat good portion of the first half with two fouls, but once he came back in, he scored eight of USC’s 10 points from the 7:29 mark to the four-minute media timeout and brought USC within one point, as the Vols led 28-27.

Vescovi finally got one to drop on a tough, mid-range, baseline jump shot — he basically went the first 18 minutes of the game without scoring.

A Phillips’ jumper, two Aidoo free throws and a steal+emphatic dunk from Mashack (he got fouled and missed the free throw) extended the Vols’ lead to 37-29.

But USC closed the half on 5-0 run, the exclamation point of which was Ellis’s step-back 3 as the first-half clock expired that cut UT’s lead to 37-34 at the break.

USC started the second half on a 9-4 run, fueled in part by Tennessee missing some easy look near the hoop, two fouls and a turnover.

The Trojans led 45-41 at the under-16 media timeout, but Joshua Morgan, who had four blocks and four rebounds in the first half, picked up his third foul and headed to the bench. USC obviously made an emphasis on taking care of the ball at the halftime break, because the Trojans didn’t turn it over once in the first six minutes of the second half, while Tennessee gave it up three times in that span.

A three-point play by Phillips cut USC’s lead to one — his ability to get to the hoop is going to be critical for the Vols all season long.

Ellis picked up his third foul around the 14-minute mark, and the Vols took back the lead on a Ziegler drive-and-dish that Aidoo finished with a nice jump hook.

USC’s leading scorer came back into the game at the 12-minute mark, and USC immediately went back into their 2-3 zone, trying to protect Ellis from picking up anymore fouls.

But a Key 3 bumped Tennessee’s lead back up to four points — 49-45 — as the Vols went on a 8-0 run that lasted nearly five minutes prior to the under-12 media break.

Ziegler’s ability to penetrate USC’s zone was critical all game, and it led to two free throws for Nkamhoua after Morgan picked up his fourth foul on an Nkamhoua shot attempt borne of a Ziegler drive that kicked the Vols’ lead back up to 51-45.

USC ended its scoring drought with layups on back-to-back possessions, the second of which was an and-one that cut the Vols’ lead back down to just one point. Then the Trojans took back the lead, 54-53, on a Vols’ turnover that led to a runout layup.

The seesaw tilted back Tennessee’s way when Phillips slammed home a missed shot by Plavsic, and with 7:15 left in the game, the Vols led 55-54.

After that, the Vols went on one of their traditional scoring slumps, dropping in just three points in nearly four minutes with a 3:14 scoreless stretch allowing USC to take a 60-58 lead with less than four minutes in the game.

The Vols adjusted their zone offense at some point in the second half, moving Phillips into the high-post spot that Grant Williams used to eat opponents alive from when they’d play zone defenses. A Phillips dump off to Nkamhoua tied the game at 62 with less than a minute left.

UT got a stop and called a timeout with the ball with just three seconds difference between the game clock (10 seconds) and shot clock (seven seconds).

It looked like Tennessee tried a double drag for Ziegler at the top of the key, but it ended up in a Vescovi 3-point attempt that didn’t even hit the rim. USC didn’t do anything with its final possession, and the game went to overtime.

The Vols’ first few minutes of overtime were bereft of scoring, outside of Phillips’ going 4-5 at the free-throw line. With two minutes left, the game was tied 66-66 before Vescovi hit his first 3 of the game to give UT a 69-66 lead. Tennessee’s defense forced a USC timeout as the Trojans couldn’t inbound the ball, and then USC ended up turning it over on a five-second call anyway as they still couldn’t get the ball inbounds.

In fact, the Vols’ defense forced USC turnovers on the Trojans’ final three possessions to seal the win. Altogether, USC turned it over six times in the five-minute overtime period. Ouch.

Tennessee gets a crack at No. 3 Kansas tomorrow in the Battle 4 Atlantis final.


  • Tennessee hit just three of its 18 attempts from 3
  • USC turned the ball over 20 times, and the Vols scored 25 points off those foibles
  • UT had 14 assists on 24 made baskets for a 58 assist-percentage mark
  • The Vols hit 22 of their 26 free throws
  • Nkamhoua was the only Vol othen than Phillips to score in double figures (he had 12 points and six boards)
  • Sophomore big man Jonas Aidoo didn’t have a good shooting night — just 2-10 — but he led the team with nine rebounds in just 25 minutes. Five of his boards were on the offensive glass, and he led the team in +/- with a plus-17 figure.
  • Tennessee had 30 points in the paint