In a game that pitted two teams in Bart Torvik’s top-10 defensive efficiency numbers against each other, I got the exact opposite of what I expected.
The Vols absolutely lit up Torvik’s 7th-best defense in the Mississippi State Bulldogs to the tune of nearly 90 points, while shooting 69 percent (nice) from the field and 57 percent (12-21) from deep.
Tennessee started the game off on a 16-0 run, holding the Bulldogs scoreless through five-plus minutes of the first half. Uros hit an early layup, Tyreke Key hit a 3, then Santiago Vescovi hit three-straight 3s to give the Vols part of the early padding on their lead.
But then, UT went into one of its scoreless streaks — the Vols didn’t score from the 15:34 mark until the 11:42 mark when Olivier Nkamhoua hit a turnaround jumper in the paint. The Bulldogs deployed a 3⁄4 -quarter court, press zone defense that pressured the ball, slowed the Vols pace and before Tennessee knew it, the shot clock was nearing single digits on its possessions.
Still, with 11:33 left in the half, the Vols led 18-3 and had scored five points off four Bulldog turnovers.
Two Miss State FTs and a 3 gave the Bulldogs a 5-0 mini-run, but a Santi deflection that led to a Zakai Ziegler steal led to two Santi made FTs. And Tennessee got two more buckets in the lane from Nkamhoua as he found space in the middle of the Miss State zone.
With 7:58 left in the first half, Uros Plavsic got a 3-second call by pump faking three or four times instead of just putting up a shot. It was the Vols’ fifth turnover of the half, so it really wasn’t a huge deal — but Uros is a starting upperclassman. Just get the shot to the hoop, ya know? At this point, the Vols were up 24-10.
A Jonas Aidoo block led Key 3 on the fast break, making it 27-10 with seven minutes left. Julian Phillips followed that with his first made 3 since Eastern Kentucky (five games ago). Tobe Awaka got the assist, as he anticipated the incoming double team and found Phillips open at the top of the key.
Vescovi caused a Miss State turnover and then hit his fourth 3 in four tries at the 4:42 mark, and Awaka hit an and-1 look at the rim on the next possession to extend the Vols’ lead to 36-14.
At 3:08, Phillips had a nice dunk that was immediately followed by a Josiah-Jordan James steal which ended up at two points on alley-oop dunk to James on the fast break. Tennessee’s lead had ballooned to 40-14. James made it five-straight points with a corner 3 late in the shot clock, and then Ziegler hit a 3 for his first make of the game. The defense gave up a couple buckets in between, but it’s not the worst to trade baskets when you’re up 20-plus.
State ended the half with a 3 with six seconds left on the game clock, but Tennessee went into hafltime up 46-22.
Tennessee kicked off the second half with a missed Vescvoi 3 late in the shot clock and two turnovers on its first three possessions, while State hit a 3 and looked like it was gonna make a run. But State turned it over, and the Vols made three-straight layups to make the game 52-25 with 17:03 left in the game.
With 16:19 left, Zieger hit his second 3 of the game on a late-clock, moon-shot 3-ball from 35-ish feet, and then Phillips followed that with his team-leading seventh rebound that he converted into a bucket at the rim. Phillips hit two more middy jumpers for his own 6-2 scoring run.
The Vols next six points came in the lane — a dunk and layup from Uros and another layup from Nkamhoua. With 11-ish minutes remaining, the Vols led 67-35. Ziegler’s third 3 of the night made it 70-37 and then Jahmai Mashack snagged an offensive board and hit the subsequent layup.
James’ second 3 of the game fell on the next possession, and Tennessee led 75-41 at the under-eight media timeout. The assist on James’ 3 came from Ziegler, which gave Zakai a double-double with 11 points and 10 helpers.
With 6:01 remaining, Mashack made a jumper, but then the Vols didn’t score again until an Awaka layup with 3:48 to go in the game.
The Vols added a dunk from Aidoo and a couple more layups from Awaka before the final whistle.
- Tennessee had 27 assists of 36 made buckets for a 75-percent assist percentage
- Jonas Aidoo was the only scholarship player to play and make fewer than two field goals
- Julian Phillips looked better than he has of late, with 11 points on 5-6 shooting while leading the team with seven rebounds
- The Vols have five players score in double figures: Vescovi (14), Phillips (11), Ziegler (11) Nkamhoua (10), Plavsic (10)
- UT hit 13 of its 16 layup chances and went 5-5 on its dunks
- Plavsic and Nkamhoua both finished 5-5 from the field
- Tennessee turned the ball over 15 times, while forcing 12 State TOs that it converted into 20 points
- It’s hard to overstate the importance of Tennessee’s young post players: Aidoo was hampered with foul trouble but still had five boards, four assists, one steal and one block in 13 minutes, while Tobe Awaka had nine points on 4-5 shooting with six boards and a team-high three offensive rebounds
- The offense put up a frying-pan-grease-hot 1.43 PPP figure — Missouri currently leads the country with a 1.69 figure
- Josiah-Jordan James looked good in his first game since Eastern Kentucky — he finished with eight points on 3-5 shooting (2-2 from deep) with four assists and a steal in 17 minutes