It’s no secret that getting Rick Barnes to tout your performance is hard work. However, Tennessee basketball may have pulled it off in their 94-40 win over the Alcorn State Braves Sunday night.
Barnes acknowledged that it was the Vols’ most complete win on both sides of the ball so far this year. However, he specified that it was their most complete win in terms of concentration.
“Alcorn, I’ll tell you, our guys I think gave them the ultimate compliment, because they were locked in, ready to play,” he said in his postgame press conference. “We had watched enough tape with them to know they put as much effort in guarding and defending as anybody we have played.”
Defense was, well, what defense has been for Tennessee basketball. They forced 22 turnovers and had 13 steals. Zakai Zeigler led the way with five steals, and Jahmai Mashack had four.
However, the offense was also pretty solid in this game, and that was without their best shooter, Santiago Vescovi. Mashack and Zeigler helped that with their defense, as they had 13 and 10 points respectively.
Still, Olivier Nkamhoua led the way with 20 points, and Julian Phillips had 18 points. Uros Plavsic had 12 points, and Tyreke Key had 11. Although they were only 8-of-24 from three, they shot 52.4 percent from the field.
“When you look at it, the fact that we assisted 27 on 33 baskets, I guess, that’s how we’re at our best, and we were able to turn some turnovers into some baskets,” Barnes said. “Obviously, that makes it easier in some ways, but that was a good defensive effort.”
With Nkamhoua, Phillips and Plavsic all thriving, it’s clear the Vols were dominant in the post as well. They outrebounded Alcorn State 44-23.
Nkamhoua and Jonas Aidoo, who came off the bench, each had seven boards. Tobe Awaka played nine minutes and had five boards. However, what really stood out is Nkamhoua dishing out six assists, leading the team.
“It’s that balance we’re looking for, and we’re getting closer,” Barnes said. “When we do hit the paint with it and it comes back out we expect those guys to shoot it because we think they can shoot it.”
While Vescovi wasn’t in this game and is day-to-day, Josiah-Jordan James finally made his return. He came off the bench and was rusty offensively, but he did have three assists and a steal in 14 minutes.
Barnes touted the post defense and the pressure applied by Zeigler, Mashack and Key. However, he touted James specifically and what he was able to do.
“Even the minutes he plays, he impacts the game,” Barnes said. “He gets his hands on things. He rebounds. What we’ve got to do is we have to get a team full of guys that want to be defensive player of the years.”
James, who has been dealing with knee soreness, said he knew something was wrong against the Colorado Buffaloes three weeks ago. He said it has been tough having to be out, but he was welcomed with cheers Sunday.
“It was fun,” he said. “I missed being out there, and I guess the fans missed me being out there too, so it’s kind of humbling knowing that they always have my back, and Vol Nation, like I’ve always said, is second to none.”