Tennessee rolled into Starkville on Tuesday night without Santiago Vescovi or Tyreke Key. Down two starters, the Volunteers still found a way to win. They overcame a bumpy first half, turning the momentum just before the halftime break. Rick Barnes took advantage of a mini-break as the Mississippi State staff installed a new net, and Tennessee came back to tie the game before halftime.
The Volunteers, powered by Zakai Zeigler and Julian Phillips, went on to win 70-59.
It was a really nice win, all things considered, but understandably, the focus was on Vescovi and Key after the game.
“He got fouled in the game against Kentucky,” Barnes said of Vescovi. “They yanked his shoulder. That one loose ball there where he came off the screen. You could see on tape where the guy grabbed him. And that arm that was sore, it reaggravated it. He tried to get ready, he just couldn’t pick it up the way he needed to.”
Vescovi is averaging 13 points per game this season, adding four rebounds and three assists per game. One of the senior leaders on this team, his impact is massive, and Tennessee really can’t afford to have him out for very long if they want to secure a top seed in the NCAA Tournament and chase an SEC title.
Tyreke Key is another important piece, also a senior. The transfer guard from Indiana State has been the starter at point guard since early in the season, taking over from Zakai Zeigler who has settled back into his role off the bench.
He was unable to play on Tuesday night due to an illness.
“Tyreke did go through our shoot around and we thought he was going to play, then once we got back to the hotel he got a temperature and it kept going up,” Barnes said. “A couple of the coaches have been under the weather a little bit.”
Tennessee was stretched thin, but found a way in a tough spot on the road. Things didn’t feel great in the first half, but credit the staff for adjusting and credit the rest of the roster for gutting things out in the second half.
“We showed some great character, we really did,” Barnes said. “We knew coming in here was going to be a hard game if we had everybody. We knew that, we expected it.”
Tennessee is back in action at LSU on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET.