The Tennessee Volunteers (9-1) hit a groove in the second half of the game against Arkansas on Wednesday night and it looked like that bled over into Saturday’s matchup with the Texas A&M Aggies (6-4).
Excellent play from Santiago Vescovi and a ton of second half mistakes by the Aggies put Tennessee on the winning path as they cruised to their ninth victory of the year.
Josiah Jordan-James picked right up where he left off against Arkansas as he made the first bucket of the game to give the Vols a 2-0 lead. Texas A&M rattled off two straight buckets to take a 4-2 lead, but a Santiago Vescovi 3 put the Vols back in front, 5-4. What initially looked like another Yves Pons block was correctly called as goaltending, which put the Aggies back in front, 6-5. Another Vescovi 3 put the Vols back up, 8-6 with 15:33 remaining in the first half.
The Vols would go on a 13-3 run over the next 5:05 to push their lead to 18-9, with 10:47 left in the first half. The Vols were a perfect 4-of-4 during the run. Two Vescovi 3s highlighted the run and helped the Vols build their lead until a Jay Jay Chandler layup ended the run and made it an 18-11 game.
Tennessee continued its hot streak, however, making its next four shots to push the lead to 27-13 with 6:59 left in the first half. The Vols had nine assists to the Aggies’ none. Tennessee was finding ways to move the ball and most importantly, were hitting their shots from downtown.
The Aggies started find some life beyond the arc soon after, however, as back-to-back 3s cut Tennessee’s lead to 27-19. A&M was able to keep the deficit within single digits for a little while, but could never really threaten the Vols’ lead.
Efficient passing and good shot selection allowed Tennessee to enter the half with a 37-30 lead. Both teams closed out the first 20:00 on a strong note, combining to hit nine of the final 12 shots. Tennessee’s first half featured excellent offensive play, evidenced by the Vols 63% mark from the floor that included 5-of-10 from 3. The Aggies were hitting just 37% of their shots and were struggling on offense.
Vescovi led the team with 12 points and all 12 points came from downtown, where he was 4-of-5 in the first half.
The second half couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for Tennessee. Fulkerson was able to score on a backdoor pass and then Vescovi drilled a 3 after Tennessee forced a turnover to put the Vols up, 42-30, in the opening minutes. A&M’s offense, on the other hand, did not get off to as hot a start. In fact, it took the Aggies 3:22 to score their first points of the second half and both points came off free throws. The Vols continued to lead by double-digits as a Victor Bailey Jr. 3-point shot went through the basket and made it a 49-36 game with 14:53 to go in the game.
Turnovers were killing the Aggies. Their defense was playing well, but Tennessee’s lead was created mainly from the Aggie mistakes. They only had five in the first half, but already had six in the first 10:00 of the second half. A 4:36 Aggie scoring drought that was aided by three straight turnovers allowed Tennessee to maintain the lead as it led, 54-41, with 8:33 left in the game.
A Jaxson Robinson layup finally ended the Aggies’ offensive misery and all of a sudden, the Vols were struggling on offense, themselves. A 1-of-7 run that helped ignite a 2:15 scoring drought made room for the Aggies to cut Tennessee’s lead to nine points. Yves Pons was able to come through with a huge dunk to end the drought, however, and extend Tennessee’s lead back to 11. More Aggie misfortune struck when A&M head coach Buzz Williams was hit with a technical foul. Vescovi hit one free throw, but couldn’t hit the other. Fulkerson also missed an easy dunk on the subsequent possession that would’ve helped extend the lead, but regardless, the Vols led, 57-45, with 6:20 left in the game.
A Vescovi 3 with 3:20 left in the game put the Vols up, 62-48, and would put the game on ice for Tennessee. The Vols would go on to win, 68-54.
Tennessee finished with a 59% mark from the floor that included an 8-of-21 mark from 3. Vescovi led the team with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting that included a 6-of-10 mark from 3.
The Vols are now set to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks. Tipoff is at 7PM EST on Tuesday, January 12.
You can check out the final score and stats here.