Tennessee was flying high before the season even began, smoking Gonzaga in a scrimmage to really get the ball rolling. However, tonight when things officially started counting, it was a little bit of a different story against the Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech.
The first half was a complete offensive struggle on both sides. Steals and defense — that’s what carried the Volunteers in the first few minutes of this one. Tennessee Tech actually only attempted four shots in the first six minutes.
Five-star Julian Phillips got the start in his first career game, and came out firing. However, he couldn’t find the bottom of the net. In fact, nobody outside of Tyreke Key could.
Key, the senior Indiana State transfer, came off of the bench to end the cold shooting to put Tennessee up 9-1. Key ended up scoring 11 first half points, which were much needed for the Volunteers.
All of those missed shots turned into sloppy passing, perhaps stemming from some frustration. After nine straight misses from three-point range, Vescovi finally knocked one down to stop the bleeding. It was a 25-16 score with a minute to play. Key came up with a steal and a couple of free throws before the halftime break.
A 27-16 lead over Tennessee Tech wasn’t exactly what we all thought we would see after that Gonzaga result. The shots were open, they simply just weren’t falling in the first half for Tennessee.
Key hit his third three of the game to open the second half. He hit his fourth shortly after. Tennessee had much better rhythm offensively to open the second period as the Volunteers slowly started to distance themselves.
Santiago connected from deep to push the lead out to 18 points with 16 minutes to play.
Jahmai Mashack arrived in the second half, hitting a three of his own after coming up with a steal. Mashack is a guy that pretty clearly is going to be in the rotation, and we saw some flashes of offense tonight.
Jonas Aidoo got in on the three-point fun late in the second half, becoming the sixth Volunteers to connect from deep on the night.
Tennessee slowly salted this one away, and the subs came in to finish the job.
Final score: Tennessee 75, Tennessee Tech 43.
Tyreke Key once again led Tennessee in scoring, putting up 17 points in his official debut. Vescovi added nine and Zeigler finished with 12.
Julian Phillips was very active in his debut, scoring eight points, adding six rebounds and three assists. He was fearless, even though his shot wasn’t falling tonight.
Overall, you got the Rick Barnes defensive experience, with some inconsistent offense. It was more than just missed shots in the first half, but the Volunteers managed to iron things out nicely in the second. Tennessee finished 14-44 from long range after a brutal start.
Tennessee will be back in action on Sunday in Nashville, set to take on Colorado.