Rocky Top’s third straight home game against a lesser opponent ended in another blowout win for the Vols. Tennessee basketball beat the Eastern Kentucky Colonels 84-49 Wednesday night for their seventh straight win and fourth straight game holding an opponent to 50 points or fewer.
Rick Barnes’ team, ranked No. 7 in both polls, actually trailed 11-9 at the 11-minute mark. However, they began to pull away after that and led 32-21 at halftime. They opened the second half with a 10-0 run, part of a 15-0 run going back to the end of the first half, to take control.
With the win, the Vols improve to 8-1 and will next travel to Brooklyn to take on the Maryland Terrapins, who are ranked No. 13 in both polls. Eastern Kentucky, meanwhile, falls to 4-5 and will next host the Boyce College Bulldogs this Saturday. Here are five things we learned from Tennessee basketball’s victory.
1. Defense keeps dominating.
As we mentioned in the first paragraph, this is the fourth straight game the Vols held a foe to 50 points or fewer. However, EKU is different from other teams UT has faced, as they rely on the three heavily, hitting over 10 a game. The Vols held them to 6-of-35 from outside on the night. They were 15-of-68 from the field in general.
EKU had 16 turnovers, and Rocky Top came away with 11 steals. Zakai Zeigler was the star there, as he had four, and that’s why he scored 13 points off the bench, as he was able to turn his defense into offense. Jahmai Mashack added three steals. Joshiah-Jordan James added two off the bench. Most notably, though, UT had eight blocks, which leads to our next point.
2. Inside play was unstoppable.
This should be the case against lesser teams, and it was for Tennessee basketball. The Vols flat-out dominated Eastern Kentucky down low. They outrebounded them 56-40. Now, while they had 20 offensive boards, EKU did its job on that end too with 18, but that’s because of so many bricks from outside that bounced back out to them.
Julian Phillips was the star, as he had his first double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. All of Tennessee basketball’s starting forwards hit double figures. Olivier Nkamhoua had 10, and Uros Plavsic had 13. Nkamhoua had eight boards and three blocks. Phillips and Mashack each had two blocks. Plavsic had one.
3. Offense struggled early with the press.
The reason the Vols had just nine points at the 11-minute mark was because they had 10 turnovers. Eastern Kentucky was pressing them and trapping relentlessly, and it was the first time they had really seen that this year. Once Barnes got them to figure it out, though, they became unstoppable, as they were the rest of the way.
In the final 30 minutes, Tennessee basketball only had six turnovers. Tyreke Key was the star to breaking the press, and he finished as the leading scorer with 17 points. Zeigler helped, dishing out five assists, but Key really took over, particularly in the second half. That’s how UT dominated.