Following a solid performance in a 73-71 loss at North Carolina on Sunday, the Vols returned to the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena for a non-conference, in-state tilt against Tennessee Tech on Tuesday evening.
Here are a few key takeaways from the 74-68 victory:
Second-half struggles turns game into a grind: It looked like the Vols (5-4) were going to cruise past the Golden Eagles (4-8). They held a lead as large as 22 points early in the second half and were largely in control until a second-half slump put the game in jeopardy.
Tennessee went on a five-plus minute field-goal drought that allowed Tech to pull within 10, setting up a stretch run that saw Tech close the gap all the way down to five points with 1:35 remaining in the game. Thanks to some clutch plays in the closing possessions, it never got closer than that, but that second-half performance certainly fell short of Rick Barnes’ expectations
“We’re not where we needed to be from a mental standpoint for 40 minutes,” Barnes said. “The second half was disappointing, it really was, but I don’t want to take away from Tennessee Tech because they created it.”
Barnes went on to say that the Vols played like they were in a pick-up game after the got a lead – jacking up bad 3-point shots and taking things for granted.
In total, Tennessee turned the ball over 13 times and hit just 1-of-7 attempts from 3-point territory in the second half. That can be a troubling combination regardless of the level of opponent.
Hubbs is the hero: While the team itself struggled to replicate its performance from the UNC game, Robert Hubbs III did not. Hubbs followed his 21-point performance in Chapel Hill with a 25-point evening in Knoxville against the Golden Eagles. His shooting wasn’t quite as hot as it was in the Dean Dome, but the senior guard did knock down a respectable 10-of-17 (58.8%) from the field on Tuesday evening.
Hubbs also added seven boards and a timely block in the closing minutes to help UT preserve the victory.
“He needs to be leading us in shots attempted and we need to work harder to get him the ball,” Barnes said. “He’s a guy that is not afraid to take the responsibility and say it’s my fault. He’s become the leader we want him to be.”
Turner gives and takes: Redshirt freshman Lamonte Turner looked like he might take over, much like he did last week in a home contest against Presbyterian, when he dropped 24 points and seven made 3-pointers.
He started out 4-of-4 from 3-point territory on Tuesday against Tennessee Tech, but cooled off after that point, only hitting one of his final five 3-pointers for a final line of 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
“The best thing he does is he’s a spot-up shooter,” Barnes said of Turner, also noting that he needs to improve his defensive focus. “He’s not the kind of guy that is going to beat you off the dribble a lot…He’s still thinking shots first as opposed to running the team.”
Final stats from UT’s 74-68 win over Tennessee Tech. pic.twitter.com/hq32dArcnW
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) December 14, 2016
Play of the night:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 14, 2016