"We're Not Done": What Tennessee Players and Rick Barnes Said After Win Over Alabama

The Tennessee Volunteers survived a physical game and defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide 81-74 to stand alone atop the SEC standings.

Auburn v Tennessee
Auburn v Tennessee / Eakin Howard/GettyImages
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The Tennessee Volunteers completed the season sweep over the Alabama Crimson Tide with their 81-74 win on Saturday night. The nationally televised event was a battle of the heavyweights — Alabama's explosive offense versus Tennessee's physical defense.

Between Jahmai Mashack coming through for Rick Barnes on a night where he is needed to provide a heavy workload, Zakai Zeigler and Josiah-Jordan James scoring clutch buckets late, or Tennessee's defense coming up big late to secure the win - it took a full team effort to secure Saturday's win over Alabama.

First place in the SEC

Tennessee's win not only gave them another resume builder as they compete with Arizona for the final one-seed in the NCAA tournament but also gave the Vols sole possession of first place in the SEC standings. That also means Tennessee currently holds the one-seed for the upcoming SEC Tournament.

This isn't the old SEC basketball. Kentucky is no longer the one conference powerhouse, with a few other schools trailing behind, hoping for a few upsets. The SEC is full of national championship contenders in the East and West. Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, and Auburn could all make runs to the Final Four and win a national championship.

"This league is the best it's ever been in my nine years here. And I don't know if anybody has ever had a tougher finish than us. But we have two more big ones coming up and we're trying not to feel too good about things.

We're not done."

Rick Barnes

There is no doubt Barnes will keep the Vols focused on the ultimate goal of winning the SEC and a national championship. While they are coming off two big wins against Auburn and Alabama, Barnes knows they must stay focused to achieve their goals.

Completing the second-half comeback

It looked like Tennessee was on the brink of collapsing in the second half. Alabama led by seven, and they had all of the momentum. If Tennessee was going to get back into this game before Alabama ran away with it, they would need some clutch shots from their playmakers.

Zeigler and James were big factors in Tennessee coming back and winning the game down the stretch. They could have taken full credit for their performance after the game when speaking to reporters, but James chose to go another route and credit his head coach when asked about the final 14 minutes of the game.

"[It was a] Rick Barnes masterclass"

Josiah-Jordan James

James could have taken full credit for his second-half performance, and no one would have batted an eye. But his crediting Barnes' coaching down the stretch shows the team and culture Barnes has built on Rocky Top. If Barnes was asked the same question, I'd be willing to bet he credits the player's performance for their comeback.

Team effort to secure the win

Tennessee struggled offensively throughout the game. Part of that was due to Dalton Knecht having a less-than-impressive night on the offensive side of the court and Tennessee's big men staying in foul trouble throughout the game.

Barnes was forced to spend much of the second half with no forwards on the court or only play with Mashack and four guards. This prevented the Vols from relying on their physical post-play and allowed Alabama to go on offensive and defensive runs.

Down the stretch, Barnes knew he had to rely on everyone to do their part to win the game. He had confidence in his players to do the right thing and make the right plays to lead the team when they had non-traditional lineups on the court.

"We've won a lot of games where Dalton didn't do what he did against Auburn. He's the one that said give me the ball, let them double me and I'll get it to Jonas."

Rick Barnes

There was also a moment in Saturday's game where Santiago Vescovi drew up a play during a timeout to get his teammate a wide-open shot. Knecht and Vescovi's unselfishness allowed others to get open for high-quality shots.

Jahmai Mashack's big game

You may not have known it at the end of the game, but Mashack was a huge part of the Vols' success. Mashack ate a lot of minutes for the Vols, along with his eight points and six rebounds. His 27 minutes were the most minutes of any forward on the court for both teams.

Barnes gave full credit where credit was due after Mashack delivered one of his best performances in a Tennessee uniform.

"I love him to death… I could almost say this is the best game he’s played since he’s been at Tennessee."

Rick Barnes

Mashack wasn't the only player who came up big for the Vols last night, but he did so whenever Barnes and the Vols called his number. Whether it be on offense, shooting, and scoring when he was open, or playing tough defense as the only forward on the court, Mashack played his best all-around game against a team with six forwards rotating in while he stayed on the court.

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Tennessee now looks forward to their top-20 matchup against South Carolina, where the Vols will head back on the road for their final regular season game away from Thompson-Boling Arena. Barnes and the Vols will be looking to split the season series against the Gamecocks and win the regular season SEC Championship and secure the one-seed in the SEC Tournament.