The Donnie Tyndall era got underway in Thompson Boling Arena on Monday night as Tennessee pulled away from a feisty Pikeville team and eventually won by the final score of 80-62 in Tennessee’s first exhibition game of two on the season. It was an up and down night for the Vols, who are still learning and growing into the system and style of play that Donnie Tyndall and his staff are trying to instill, but they played well enough in the second half to build a lead and never look back.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
Armani Moore: Although he was listed as a probable starter when practice began, recent struggles with back spasms have moved Armani Moore to the bench to start games as he tries to get completely healthy. Moore looked perfectly healthy in this game, however, and really gave Tennessee a boost of energy in both halves when his number was called. Moore was all over the floor on defense and ended up leading all Vols with 17 points on the offensive end of the floor. Moore went 8-of-10 from the field in only 23 minutes of play, claimed seven rebounds, dished two assists and sent a Pikeville layup attempt into the third row on a vicious first-half block. Moore will likely be back in the starting lineup when his health improves, but on this night he was the spark that Tennessee needed after a slow start.
Deep rotation: The Vols played eleven guys tonight, all of which recorded at least two points in the stat sheet. Tyndall has said recently that he would like to feature a deep rotation of players, but I wouldn’t expect this many players to see significant action on a consistent basis once the actual season begins.
“This is the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been when looking at who to play.” Tyndall said in his post-game radio show. “There are eleven guys that are, essentially, neck and neck. It’s so close, but hopefully it will start working itself out. We will start rewarding players who defend the bounce and see where that takes us.”
There were a lot of positives to take away from what many of the new players were able to accomplish. Guys like Kevin Punter, Detrick Mostella and Robert Hubbs – who missed most of the 2013/2014 season after undergoing shoulder surgery – all showed flashes of ability and exciting play that should give Tennessee fans reason to be optimistic moving forward. The Vols had 17 assists on 31 baskets, which is very good considering the deep rotation, but also committed 18 turnovers. The turnovers are expected as a young, inexperienced team learns to play together in a new system, but that will certainly be a point of emphasis for the coaching staff in practice this week.
Detrick Mostella: I think the blurb on Detrick Mostella summed it up best,” One of the most gifted athletes on the team; learning to play disciplined basketball within a system.” Mostella’s talent is obvious from the moment he steps on the floor, but he is a very high-risk, high-reward type of player at this point in his career. Mostella finished with 11 points in 18 minutes of play while going 4-of-8 from the floor; including a baseline slam that showed off the freshman’s vertical leap. But Mostella also committed two turnovers while contributing only one assist and looked lost at times when Tennessee pressed and dropped back into Donnie Tyndall’s matchup zone. He is too talented to sit on the bench, but Tyndall and company will have an interesting task ahead of them as they try to mold Mostella into a more consistent and well-rounded player on both ends of the floor.
K.K. Simmons: Sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due, and K.K. Simmons deserves a lot of credit for his performance in this game. The 6’3 junior from Atlanta was a one man wrecking crew for Pikeville tonight and proved that his 28 point performance against Kentucky in the previous game was no fluke. Simmons went 10-of-19 from the floor – including 7-of-13 from the three point line – and finished the night as the game’s leading scorer with 30 points. As is typically the case with most zone defenses, Simmons was able to find room to get his shot off until some coaching adjustments by Tennessee’s staff helped slow him down in the second half. Simmons had 20 points at the break in this game, hitting five threes in the process, but Tennessee’s adjustments for the second half limited the talented shooter to just 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting after halftime.
It’s a start: I don’t think anyone expected this team to be a juggernaut out of the gate this year, but the Vols put in a solid performance in their first action of the 2014 season and put this one in the win column. Tyndall said after the game that fine-tuning a rotation and eliminating turnovers will be the emphasis in practice this week, but, all things considered, an 18-point win against a very solid Pikeville squad on a night that saw the Vols commit 18 turnovers is a solid starting point for this Tennessee team. Pikeville is the second-ranked team in all of NAIA basketball in the preseason that some thought would give Tennessee all they could handle in this one, but, even after a sloe start, the Vols were able put the game out of reach before halftime. The halftime adjustments on both sides of the ball were effective and Tennessee was able to get a lot of players some valuable minutes as they try to build some depth for the season. It wasn’t poetry in motion, but Donnie Tyndall and his team earned their first victory of the season.