Tennessee’s 76-40 win against McNeese State had most, if not all, of the elements that typically lead to a Vol hoops win. UT played great defense, forced a lot of turnovers, turned those TOs into points and connected on nearly 40 percent of its 3s. Oh, and the Vols hit the magic number with at least 20 assists. In fact, they finished with 21 helpers on 23 field goals — a ridiculous 91-percent assist percentage 8^0
But the early part first half was basically just a slog of turnovers, fouls and missed shots. I sort of expected the defense to suffocate McNeese, and it did a lot of that. The Vols held the Cowboys under the double-digit point total through the first 17 minutes of the game and had the opposing offense shooting sub-20 percent from the floor nearly the entire first 20 minutes of the game.
The Vols’ long arms, pesky hands and overall physical presence forced multiple shot clock violations, a five-second call on a far-side inbounds and numerous empty possessions for McNeese. In total, the Cowboys turned it over 13 times through the first half and finished the period on a 2-10 shooting slump.
Those turnovers fueled the Tennessee offense, with the Vols turning those 13 giveaways into 16 points. At the half, the Vols led by a comfortable 30-14 margin, but early on UT seemed to be doing its best to match the Cowboys’ lackadaisical ball control. Oliver Nkamhoua turned the ball over on both of the Vols’ first two possessions, and Julian Phillips missed a look near the rim on the next trip down the floor.
McNeese State’s fluid 2-3/ 1-3-1 zone gave the offense trouble, as the Vols struggled getting the ball inside, and then the Cowboys managed to muck up the middle of the floor with lots of bodies and arms flustering Tennessee’s post players when the entry passes were made. But that defense hurt the Cowboys in way, too, as they tallied up 13 first-half fouls, several of which came on the defensive end of the floor.
A Zakai Ziegler 3 opened things up a bit at the 15:47 mark, and then three straight points from Jonas Aidoo gave the Vols an 8-4 lead at 13:19.
Neither team scored again until Santiago Vescovi nailed his first triple nearly midway through the first half, and then Vescovi’s second 3 dropped with 7:38 left that capped off an 11-2 run that spanned over seven minutes.
Aidoo was arguably Tennessee’s best player in the first half, with five points, six rebounds and four blocks in just 11 minutes of playing time.
The Vols started cleaner in the second half, stretching their lead out to 41-16 with 11 points and just one turnover on six possessions by the under-16 media timeout. Phillips hit a corner 3 and two free throws, Vescovi added another triple while Nkamhoua had a dunk and hit one of his two free throw tries.
Jahmai Mashack hit a 3, his second of the season — doubling his total from last season — on a kickout at the 13:46 mark that took advantage of McNeese’s zone defense collapsing into the post. The next possession, he got a steal that led to a run-out jam for Nkamhoua. UT used Mashack as the primary point point-of-attack defender most of the time he was on the floor — which is likely gonna be his primary utility for this team this season — but seeing him drill a 3 with no hesitation on the look was a nice surprise.
By the halfway point of the final 20 minutes, it was Phillips and Nkamhoua taking charge of the game. With the Vols leading 52-29, they were tied for the team-lead in points in the half with seven each, while Nkamhoua snagged five rebounds and Phillips dished out three assists.
Vesvoi hit his fourth 3 and Tyreke Key hit his first shot of the evening — another 3 — before Barnes started subbing in guys like freshmen Tobe Awaka and BJ Edwards. Key had gone 0-4 from the field in the first half (0-3 from deep) and didn’t score his 10th point until there was less than a minute left in the game. After scoring 17 and 15 in the first two games of the season, Key’s scored six, nine, eight, 10 and 10 over his last five contests.
- Vescovi led the team with 16 points, but it wasn’t his most efficient outing. He shot just 5-13 from the field and 4-12 from deep. He’s had just one game with fewer than seven three-point attempts, but he’s shooting just above 30 percent through seven games.
- Aidoo continues to be a force rebounding the ball, as he tied for the team lead with six in just 16 minutes of action.
- Tennesssee had four players score in double figures: Vescovi (16), Phillips (12), Nkamhoua (11) and Key (10).
- The Volunteer defense held McNeese State to 29 percent shooting overall 12 percent from deep.
- Points-off-turnovers comparison: Tennessee 30, McNeese State 4