Following their first home opening loss since 1991, the Vols needed to bounce back well on Tuesday night against Appalachian State.
Tennessee’s offense caught fire in a 103-94 victory over Appalachian State, marking the first time Tennessee passed the century mark since a 104-84 win over No. 21 Memphis in 2011.
A small starting five took the court with four guards set around Kyle Alexander at center. In his first career start, freshman Jordan Bowden made the most of his opportunity. Four seconds into the game, Bowden nailed a 3 to open the scoring, and kept the hot hand for much of the first half.
The same Tennessee team that was 1-for-16 from 3 on Friday against Chattanooga made six of its first 10 attempts from long range against Appalachian State. Bowden finished the night 4-for-8 from long distance and said that his first 3 gave him extra confidence.
“In pregame warmups I wasn’t hitting shots,” Bowden said. “And then I hit my first one when I got in and got a good groove. Seeing the ball go in that first time gives you a lot of confidence, especially that early in the game. I just had a lot of confidence after that.”
After playing just seven minutes against Chattanooga, Rick Barnes said Bowden earned his start.
“In the last couple days he’s made a conscious effort to defend better,” Barnes said. “No turnovers tonight, he can really pass the ball. He’s an offensive minded player.”
Trailing 11-9 four minutes into the game, Tennessee ran a half court press to try to take control of the game. It worked. The Vols went on a 21-0 run, holding the Mountaineers without a basket for the next six minutes of the game
Bowden said it all goes back to focusing defensively.
“During that spurt we focused on defense and tried to get stops,” Bowden said. “Coach is big on defense and I feel like we got a lot of stops. Us using pressure on defense caused a lot of turnovers.”
Small Lineup Comes up Big
Tennessee’s one starting forward played a major role offensively. Sophomore Kyle Alexander posted a career high 13 points, adding seven rebounds and two blocks as well.
Rick Barnes praised his big man’s performance for the second straight game, calling him “one of the three best shooters on the team.”
The smaller lineup gave Tennessee challenges on the boards, according to Barnes.
“We don’t rebound it well enough,” Barnes said. “Kyle did a good job, Detrick (Mostella) had six rebounds and Robert Hubbs had one. Detrick out-rebounded four of our five front line guys. We didn’t communicate well enough at times.”
Jordan Bone had 21 points and 1 assist against Chattanooga, but distributed the ball more against Appalachian State. Bone finished with seven points and eight assists.
Bone said his mindset was “just to hit shots.”
“I don’t feel like my mindset was more assists,” Bone said. “Tonight the shots were falling. I feel like I did a little better, but coach stresses me running the team and running the offense and getting up the court really fast. I don’t think I did as well as I should have tonight but we’re going to get it better.”
Energy Drops Late
Appalachian State outscored Tennessee 22-8 over the final five minutes of the first half, and cut the Vols lead to seven with just under a minute to go in the game.
The Mountaineers hung around longer than Rick Barnes would have liked, which he says goes back to energy.
“I thought our energy dropped,” Barnes said. “We haven’t learned that its a 40 minute game and you have to play every possession…I felt like there was a letdown every time we got a lead.”
Freshman forward Grant Williams (13 pts) said his team has to treat its games more like practice.
“Recently, we’ve had trouble with playing under the lights,” Williams said. “While playing in closed scrimmages in practice we do well. It’s a transition. It takes time to play how we want to play and how we feel like we should play. Fact is, I was on edge the first game, and I felt like I was more prepared tonight. I felt like I was more engaged and just wanting to lead the team and be a vocal guy.”
While starting point guard Jordan Bone has been a key contributor for Tennessee in these first two games, Barnes continues to be hard on Bone’s defense.
“He really struggled defensively tonight,” Barnes said. “Defensively is why he was coming out of the game. He’s learning a lot of things that he’s never even thought about.”
Bone agreed with Barnes’ assessment on his performance.
“I wasn’t satisfied tonight,” Bone said. “I was disappointed with the defensive side tonight, I’m not really worried about offense. I think I need to focus more on playing defense.”
Barnes said his team has improved defensively, but that they definitely aren’t there yet.
“As bad as I think we we are, we’re still better than we were a year ago,” Barnes said.
Tennessee’s next matchup is with No. 9 Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational next Monday.
Bone says he’s looking forward to the challenge of going to Maui.
“It’s always good to get your feet wet going and playing against teams like that,” Bone said. “They’re all well coached and they’re all talented, so we’re looking forward to those games.”