Despite Santiago Vescovi being held out due to an injury, Tennessee basketball won its sixth straight game Sunday. In Josiah-Jordan James’ first game back since before the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Vols torched the Alcorn State Braves 94-40 in Knoxville, Tenn., at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Entering the game ranked No. 13 in both polls, the Vols took complete control with an 11-0 run to go up 18-4 early on. Their dominance continued the rest of the way, as they had another 10-0 run in the half and kept it a blowout from then on. UT went 12 deep, and six players hit double figures.
With the win, Rocky Top improves to 7-1 and will next host the Eastern Kentucky Colonels Wednesday. Alcorn State falls to 3-6 and will next visit the Southern Illinois Salukis Saturday. Here are three things we learned from Tennessee basketball’s victory.
1. Defense remains aggressive.
This has been a story since they won the Battle 4 Atlantis, and it hasn’t let up. Rick Barnes continues to emphasize the defensive side of the ball, and it was clearly on display in this one. The Vols held Alcorn State to 13-of-48 from the field and 1-of-16 from three. By the way, they were 13-of-16 from the free throw line, so they were shooting fine without the defense.
Beyond contesting everything, UT forced 22 turnovers and had 13 steals. Zakai Zeigler led the way with five off the bench, and he turned that into points with 10. Jahmai Mashack, who started and had 13 points, had four steals. Meanwhile, they had five blocks, and that leads to our next point.
2. Interior was dominant.
Given the talent disparity, this is something to be expected, but Tennessee basketball lived up to it. The Vols outrebounded the Braves 44-23 and, as we mentioned, came away with five blocks. Meanwhile, Olivier Nkamhoua was the leading scorer with 20 points, Julian Phillips had 18, and Uros Plavsic, who has been banged up, added 12.
Phillips, Plavsic and Nkamhoua all had four rebounds and a block. Mashack had seven boards, as did Jonas Aidoo off the bench. Tobe Awaka had five boards in nine minutes. Aidoo and Zeigler each had a block, and Zeigler even helped with three rebounds.
3. Ball movement was superb.
On a general scale, 27 assists and just 11 turnovers is incredible ball movement. Zeigler and B.J. Edwards were both elite off the bench on this front with four and three assists, but the real story was the interior passing. Nkamhoua dished out six assists, and Phillips dished out three. Even in his limited action, James dished out three as well.
What helped the interior passing was Tyreke Key, who was the one red-hot shooter. Key went 3-of-7 from three outside en route to 11 points. That is what resulted in a complete game for Tennessee basketball. The Vols were dominant all game, and they could be even deadlier when Vescovi comes back and he, Plavsic and James are fully healthy.