Tennessee put out a dominating performance in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday, defeating the Longwood Lancers 88-56.
The Vols had a season-high 29 assists on 33 made baskets — meaning Tennessee notched an assist on 88 percent of its buckets. That’s really just outrageously efficient.
Super senior John Fulkerson was critical for Tennessee’s offense early in the game, as he scored repeatedly on slips out of the Vols’ high-ball screen offense and short jumpers in the paint. He scored eight of UT’s first 12 points and finished the game with 15 points on 7-8 shooting in just 17 minutes of action.
But as the game went on, UT’s offense was buoyed once again by absurdly proficient shooting from 3-point range. Something I noticed: Santiago Vescovi passed up an open 3 early in the game, on a pump-fake, side-step opportunity that he knocks down at a devastating rate, and Rick Barnes immediately pulled him from the game. Barnes has mentioned numerous times that if his guys pass up good looks, he’ll take them out of the game. And today he did.
Along a similar thread — a couple of Vols were a tad passive early, and Longwood managed to keep the game relatively close for the first 10-ish minutes of the game. But then Vescovi responded to his early benching by nailing his first 3 of the game with 5:52 left in the first half. He hit three more in the next two-ish minutes and finished the game 6-8 from deep and led the Vols in scoring with those 18 points.
Tennessee finished the first half on a 25-10 run following that first Vescovi deep ball, and the Lancers never recovered. I think the Vols’ 54 first-half points are the second-most in the Rick Barnes’ era.
The Vols finished with five double-figure scorers as Josiah-Jordan James had 17, Kennedy Chandler added 13 and Zakai Zeigler had 10.
James continued his absolutely blistering shooting stretch of late. He went 6-9 overall and hit three of his six attempts from 3. The following stats show his numbers from the last five games, though they don’t include today’s game. But that showing today certainly didn’t hurt any of these metrics.
Josiah-Jordan James' offense next: pic.twitter.com/7kfELDARQD— RockyTopTalk (@RockyTopTalk) March 16, 2022
Tennessee finished with 14 made 3s on 24 attempts — good for a balmy 58 percent. I think that means that the Vols are shooting 50 percent from deep through their last five games, but definitely don’t go double check my math.
I don’t know how long they can keep it up, but boy, if this team keeps shooting the ball this well, they can absolutely beat any team in the country.
The Vols get Michigan next, as the 11th-seeded Wolverines upset the sixth-seeded Colorado State Rams earlier today. This is a nice chance for Tennessee to get some revenge as Michigan has beaten the Vols both times the two teams have previously faced off in the NCAA Tournament. Jordan McRae scored 24 points but went 0-5 from deep, and the Vols hit just three of eleven total attempted 3s when UM beat UT in the 2014 Sweet Sixteen matchup.
The Wolverines are 18-14 on the season and 7-5 in their last 12 games, though they certainly have more talent than their record might indicate.
Vegas currently has Tennessee as an early 5.5-point favorite, and the game will be played Saturday, though the exact tip-off time hasn’t been announced yet.