What Rick Barnes and players said after Tennessee's win and looking ahead to Round of 32

Saint Peter's v Tennessee
Saint Peter's v Tennessee / Jared C. Tilton/GettyImages

Rick Barnes celebrated his 200th win as a Tennessee Volunteer after their 83-49 first-round win over Saint Peter's on Thursday night. This win came after back-to-back losses for the Vols to end the season and in their first game in the SEC Tournament.

Barnes highlighted the Vols' focus coming off two straight losses, "Proud of our guys' focus tonight. They knew what they needed to do. Proud of how our guys prepared and competed on defense."

It's going to be pivotal for Tennessee to continue preparing, as every game will be the last game of the season because they never know when their last game will be, given the chaos of March Madness.

In the Vols win, Tobe Awaka suffered a minor injury before returning to the court later in the second half. Barnes said, "Awaka felt something in his right leg near the hip, and he's fine."

Reporters also asked Barnes about his upcoming matchup against Texas, where he spent 17 years of his career. Barnes said, "It's not easy or fun to face people who have done so much for you in your career."

"I have friends in Texas that will be dear friends until the day I die. I'll always be grateful for them. But I've been gone nine years," Barnes said postgame. "I'm a Tennessee Volunteer, and I thank the Lord for that blessing."

Next. Tennessee dominates in first round of the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee dominates in first round of the NCAA Tournament. dark

He and Rodney Terry, Texas' head coach, were on the same staff at Texas for many years. Terry worked under Barnes, so there will be some emotion coming from each bench looking to represent their coach on the court.

Josiah-Jordan James understands Barnes' relationship with Texas and what this game could mean to him and the players. I'm sure the feeling is similar in the Texas locker room, with players wanting to get the win for their coach, knowing the circumstances Barnes and Terry face.

"For Coach, he definitely doesn’t make it bigger than it is. He has no hard feelings towards that university," James said. "For us, we kind of take it upon ourselves to make things right with him because we know this is a huge game for him, even though he doesn’t want it to be."

Zakai Zeigler is still focused on the ultimate goal, which is more than winning in the Round of 64 or Round of 32. Zeigler noted postgame that the Vols didn't come to Charlotte or the NCAA Tournament only to win one game. There is a lot more that Tennessee wants to accomplish in March.

Jahmai Mashack was open about facing the best competition in the country, too. “I love playing against the big name players, the players that everybody loves, everybody thinks are amazing because it gives me that edge and competitive fire to go and stop that,” Mashack said. “Being the guy that’s known to stop players like that it just makes me want to build off that and keep that rhythm going. It’s going to be exciting.”

Tennessee players know the type of opponent they will have with Texas. While the Longhorns are a lower seed, that doesn't necessarily mean they are an inferior opponent. The players on this team have lost to worse teams over the past few years, so they aren't going to be afraid to face Texas head-on, and Zeigler is leading that charge.

“I love competition. I never feel like I’ve ever ducked any smoke or ran from any competition in my life,” Zeigler said. “So night-in and night-out I want to play against top guards and these type of moments, I dream for them and I’m glad God gave me this opportunity.”

Fans react to Tennessee’s first round win over Saint Peter’s. dark. Next. Fans react to Tennessee’s first round win over Saint Peter’s

There is no doubt the Vols will be ready for their second-round game. Tennessee dominated its first game of the NCAA Tournament and wants to do the same for Barnes and keep its season alive with a spot in the Sweet Sixteen on the line. The Vols and Longhorns tip off at 8:00 PM ET on Saturday.