Takeaways from Tennessee's tough win over Texas

Tennessee basketball survives Texas and advances to the Sweet Sixteen in a defensive focused battle.

Texas v Tennessee
Texas v Tennessee / Jared C. Tilton/GettyImages

There were a lot of emotions coming into Tennessee's Saturday night game against Texas, the school Rick Barnes spent 17 years of his career before unceremoniously being fired for not winning enough in the NCAA Tournament.

Since Barnes has been fired, he has earned three more wins than Texas in the NCAA Tournament, and the Vols did just enough to eliminate the Longhorns from this year's tournament.

It was a defensive-focused game, with most of the points coming from the paint. This is the perfect type of game for Tennessee. Their roster is made for a tough, physical, defensive game that demands earning points in the paint.

1. Make it when it counts

Tennessee continued to force shots outside the paint and from three throughout the game, even when nothing was falling. It wasn't pretty, but one takeaway is that they made the shots when they mattered. Texas sent a 62.6% free-throw shooter to the line, and he made two of three in the final minutes of the game.

The Vols shoot 1-for-21 from three, and Dalton Knecht and Josiah-Jordan James knock down two three-point shots within a minute of each other in the final six minutes of the game. Texas goes on a nine-point run to close the gap from a 12-point deficit to two points in the second half, and Tennessee continues to make pivotal shots to stay in the lead.

With a two-point lead and under two minutes remaining in the game, Tennessee misses only one Jonas Aidoo free throw. Every other shot was made when it mattered. On a bad shooting night, the Vols made the shots that had to be made to fend off the Longhorns in the final five minutes of the game.

Hopefully, Tennessee won't have another shooting night so bad as Saturday, but even knowing every shot won't go down, the Vols play through and make shots when it matters. That's going to be important for Tennessee as they move into the second weekend of the tournament.

2. Dominant defense

Another takeaway comes from Tennessee's dominant defense. Tennessee doesn't win this game without Zakai Zeigler defending the perimeter and Jonas Aidoo and Tobe Awaka defending the paint game. No matter where Texas was on the court or what they wanted to do, the Vols made it extremely difficult for them to do anything they wanted offensively.

The restrictive defense Rick Barnes and Tennessee pride themselves on came to fruition in this game. If Tennessee can continue bringing this level of defense from the perimeter to the paint, they could advance beyond the second weekend.

Texas' best shooters were limited to high-percentage shot opportunities and still struggled to make those shots thanks to the Vols' defense. Tyrese Hunter and Chendall Weaver were the leading scorers for Texas, with 13 points a piece. If Tennessee can limit Creighton and future opponents to that few points, they can win every game in front of them.

3. Survive and advance

A third takeaway is that Tennessee is still alive. They played their worst offensive game. No team has ever advanced in the NCAA Tournament, shooting less than 15% from three-point range. Tennessee survived on only three three-point shots made at 12%, so it can't get much worse than that.

This team has what it takes to survive and advance, which is all you have to do throughout the first two weekends of the tournament to win it all. Tennessee is good in the paint, can out-rebound, and forces its opponents into mistakes and turnovers. These abilities are key to going on a deep run.

It didn't take a lot of offense to beat Texas, but the battle Tennessee led on defense, with its physicality and toughness, can guide the Vols to success next weekend — if they can stay out of foul trouble.

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The Vols advance to the Sweet Sixteen and will face No. 3 Creighton on Saturday. If Tennessee can combine the same defense with an improved offense, they can knock down the Bluejays on their way to the program's second-ever Elite Eight appearance.