Tennessee started conference play off with a bang on Thursday evening, traveling to College Station, Tex., and getting the impressive 73-63 victory over the Texas A&M Aggies (8-4, 0-1 SEC).
Here are three quick takeaways from the UT (8-5, 1-0 SEC) win:
Group effort: There were some big-time individual plays in this game. But chalk this one up as a team victory for the Vols. Tennessee used all 11 available scholarship players in its SEC season-opening victory. All but two played double-digit minutes, and all but two scored at least three points.
Nine different players recorded a rebound, seven had at least one assist and four players recorded one or more blocks. Virtually every player was getting involved on both ends of the floor.
Thursday also marked the return of point guard Jordan Bone, who hadn’t played since late November after suffering a stress fracture in his foot. He took on a limited role – playing just eight minutes – but it was encouraging to see him back on the floor.
Freshmen + Mostella stand out: While it was a team-oriented effort, Grant Williams, Lamonte Turner and Detrick Mostella provided some of the individual high points. At 6-foot-5, Williams might not fit the typical description of a rim protector, but he’s showing a great knack for blocking shots. He recorded a career-high six blocks, and now has 10 over the course of the past two game. He paced the Vols’ effort on the defensive end, while also adding 12 points and five rebounds.
Turner and Mostella did a lot of the heavy lifting on the offensive end. That backcourt duo combined for 27 points. Mostella, in particular, had continued to grow his confidence in recent games. The junior guard, who is coming off SEC Player of the Week honors, has scored double digits in four straight games – a stretch in which he is averaging 16.5 ppg. He’s been a streaky player for much of his UT career, but if the Vols can get consistent offensive production from him, they’ll be a tougher out in the SEC than many anticipated.
Road warriors: The Vols struggled away from home in Year 1 under Rick Barnes, winning just one true road contest in 2015-16. UT gave a great effort at North Carolina in a loss and then beat a quality ETSU squad in Johnson City before the Christmas break. They followed that up with this impressive effort in College Station on Thursday evening, marking just the second conference road victory in Barnes’ UT tenure.
The final scoreboard doesn’t do it complete justice since the Vols were up by 20 with just over 4:00 to play in this game. After heading into halftime tied at 29, Tennessee completely outplayed the Aggies over the final 20 minutes. It’s early, and just one game in conference play. But this, combined with the noticeable improvement even in some tough non-conference losses, should have Tennessee fans feeling much better about a squad that was picked 13th in the conference in the preseason.
Up next: Tennessee will open up its home SEC slate with a matchup against Arkansas on Jan. 3 at Thompson-Boling Arena (6:30 pm ET, SEC Network).