Rick Barnes and the Tennessee basketball team played in front of a home crowd for the first time on Thursday night. The Vols hosted division II foe Slippery Rock (PA.), winning the exhibition game by a final score of 83-48.
Here’s five observations from Tennessee’s first open competition:
Rick Barnes has some athletes
Tennessee has some guys who can jump out of the gym. Against The Rock, freshman forward John Fulkerson tallied 10 points completely off dunks. Freshman point guard Kwe Parker (2 points, 4 assists) also flashed some incredible athleticism. Barnes’ freshman class is filled with athletes who fit the mold of the current veterans. Forward Grant Williams was impressive, scoring seven points and adding three rebounds. The usual suspects were also instrumental for Tennessee. Admiral Schofield had eight points and five boards in 15 minutes on the floor. Robert Hubbs, who will likely be Tennessee’s leader and go-to guy this year, led UT with 14 points.
Defense turns into offense
The Vols were stingy defensively all night. Slippery Rock turned the ball over 30 times, resulting in 44 points for Tennessee. Sophomore guard Shembari Phillips had four steals. Kwe Parker added three steals in his 12 minutes of action. This team is so athletic that it has to up the tempo and be aggressive defensively to be successful, according to Barnes.
“Every player says they want to get out and play fast,” Barnes said after the game. “But most of them have no idea how to play fast, how hard it is.”
Tennessee had 16 steals and 20 fast-break points. That kind of tempo will be crucial for the Vols moving forward.
Jordan Bone fills Kevin Punter’s shoes
Replacing your leading scorer is no easy task, but Jordan Bone looked solid at the point guard position for Tennessee. The freshman from Nashville started at the point and scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Bone facilitated the offense nicely and displayed a smooth shooting stroke. Bone did have three turnovers and didn’t have an assist, but broke down defenses nicely in the lane. It remains to be seen whether Bone will continue to be the starter for Tennessee. Shembari Phillips was announced as the probable starter on Wednesday night.
Strong low-post defense
Sophomore center Kyle Alexander is tied in the UT record book for the most blocks in a single game with six against TCU last year. He matched that mark against Slippery Rock. In addition to his six rejections, Alexander grabbed three boards and scored five points all from the free throw line. Redshirt senior Lew Evans, a graduate transfer from Utah State, was solid defensively at the power forward position with two blocks and three rebounds. The 6-foot-7 forward adds some much needed depth and experience to the forward position.
This team needs time
With eight newcomers to this team, Tennessee will take time to gel this year. Every player on the roster saw the floor Thursday night, showing that Barnes is still taking his time to figure out his core rotation. I would expect to see an eight-or-nine man rotation potentially by SEC play, but no sooner than that. When Barnes was asked if he has some of his rotation figured out after the exhibition win, he replied, “No, we’re too young.” Guys like Fulkerson and Jordan certainly got off to an impressive start on Thursday.
Tennessee opens its regular season November 11th at home against UT Chattanooga.
Final stats from UT’s 83-48 exhibition win over Slippery Rock tonight pic.twitter.com/2iy3oejQdK
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) November 4, 2016
Come for the highlights, stay for those @fulkerson_john dunks 🙌 pic.twitter.com/PcP4bLLeka
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) November 4, 2016