Williams, Fulkerson Lead Tennessee to Blowout Win over Georgia Tech

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    Photo Credit: Nick Davis/RTI

    Photo Credit: Nick Davis/RTI

    Tennessee cruised to an 81-58 victory over Georgia Tech, improving to 3-3 on the season in the first home game since the Maui Invitational.

    The Vols were led by strong play from their freshmen forwards. 6-foot-7 John Fulkerson and 6-foot-5 Grant Williams were matched up with players who were four inches taller than them.

    The advantage went to the Tennessee freshmen.

    Williams scored 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting, while Fulkerson added 12 points on 5-of-9 from the field.

    Fulkerson said the key was energy.

    “Play smart and do your work early, don’t let them get the inside post position and be there on the catch,” Fulkerson said. “Just playing harder than them, don’t let them outwork you and play harder than them overall.”

    “We’re comfortable,” Williams said. “We know that we can play our own games, we know what we’re good at, we know how to play the game of basketball. Offensively, we’re really comfortable on that end. We’ve just got to do a better job rebounding the ball.”

    Tennessee Turns up the Pressure Defensively

    Georgia Tech struggled offensively from the outset, missing 16 of their first 17 2-point attempts. The Yellow Jackets made three of their first four 3-point attempts, but finished the game 6-for-13.

    Rick Barnes said he was pleased with his team’s defensive performance, but added that there’s still work to be done.

    “What we told our guys at halftime was we’re not there yet because we had given up nine or 10 offensive rebounds, three of them turned into 3-point plays. Our guards didn’t finish. Overall, that’s got to be really the staple of who we are,” Barnes said.

    John Fulkerson was solid defensively to go with his impressive scoring display. The freshman from Kingsport grabbed eight rebounds, adding one block and one steal.

    “A big thing we talked about before the game was our defense and how we needed to pick it up and be intense on defense,” Fulkerson said. “I think we did a pretty good job with that today.”

    “When you look at the post guys that started, that’s going to be based on one line, and that’s that rebounding line,” Barnes added. “We’re going to go with the guys who rebound the ball for us early up on the front line, that’s what will determine who starts and who plays.”

    When Grant Williams was asked to grade his performance, he was hard on himself, echoing his coach’s demand for rebounding.

    “C- or C+, because I didn’t rebound the ball well enough,” Williams said. “Other than that I feel like I did well on the offensive end. I’m emphasizing guarding on the perimeter and inside I have to rebound the ball, that’s my goal right now.”

    While Barnes said he hasn’t decided on a set rotation, he likes the progress his team is making.

    “We’ve got confidence in every guy we have. If one guy’s not getting stuff done, we’ll go down the line and check out the next guy.”

    Zone Offense Takes Big Step Forward

    Georgia Tech opened up the game in a zone defense, a look that gave Tennessee trouble in Maui. The Vols handled it well, forcing Tech into many different looks as the game went on.

    “What we realized in Maui is we’re really confident in our man-to-man offense,” Barnes said. “Over in Maui playing against terrific teams, they didn’t want to guard the man, and we struggled against the zone, and that’s my fault. We were really good today against the zone. I thought in the first half Lew (Evans) and Grant (Williams) were really good in helping our guards.”

    UT shot 55% from 3-point range and 53% from the field. Even in their wins, the Vols have struggled from 3, but Tennessee was great from long range against the Yellow Jackets.

    Sophomore guard Shembari Phillips (14 points, 7 assists) got the nod at point guard. His play was a big reason why Tennessee was so successful against the zone defense.

    “I thought Shembari did a really good job today,” Barnes said. “You go back to a year ago, he’d never played the point and he’s still getting comfortable. He’d rather play off the ball, but he’s good at it.”

    Phillips said that he was ready for the challenge of starting at point guard once again.

    “I’m working at it everyday,” Phillips said. “I played a lot of it last year, and it really helped me when I went back to the wing. When my number was called to go back to the point, I was ready for it. Everyday I’m working at it, getting better. It’s only up from here.”

    Moving Forward

    Tennessee will get a visit from Presbyterian on Tuesday before heading to Chapel Hill to face No. 3 North Carolina next Sunday.

    John Fulkerson said getting the win over Georgia Tech gives his team huge momentum.

    “This win was fun coming off Maui,” Fulkerson said. “It was huge. Coming off this weekend in practice and practice all week, we were ready to let out all our energy. It would help us a ton to just know that we can always play together and play hard. If we can string together some wins, it will really help us.”

    Shembari Phillips stressed the importance of getting a win over an ACC team after coming close against veteran teams in Maui.

    “It was big for us. This game, playing an ACC team which is a power conference, it’s confidence booster for us,” Phillips said. “Thinking back to Maui, we took Oregon into overtime, we played well with Wisconsin. We know we can play with the best of them. The SEC is a tough conference, so just being able to stay in those games (is big). In my opinion, we should have won two-out-of-three of those games in Maui.

     With Presbyterian up next, Phillips knows his team can’t look ahead to UNC on Sunday.

    “We have to approach every game like we’re playing the number one team in the country. We have to think (Presbyterian) is North Carolina.”