Alexander and Williams Propel Vols to Third Consecutive Win

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    Photo Credit: Nick Davis/RTI

    Kyle Alexander played three minutes and didn’t score against Kentucky on Tuesday.

    In the same amount of time on Saturday against Kansas State, Alexander had four points and four rebounds. The sophomore forward would finish with eight points and nine rebounds in Tennessee’s 70-58 win over Kansas State.

    Alexander was so good that Rick Barnes began his press conference complimenting his performance.

    “I really thought we got off to a great start, defensively and offensively,” Barnes said. “Really happy and proud of Kyle Alexander. I thought he was terrific to start the game, just going after rebounds and I thought he was a guy that really set a great tone for us on both ends.”

    “I just knew that if I was starting I had to come out and make an impact as fast as I could,” Alexander added.

    Alexander also started against No. 4 Kentucky, but didn’t play a single minute in the second half.

    “I talked to one of the coaches the other night, and I just said that it’s good that we’re winning, but it’s good to be able to make a contribution. I was really happy I was able to do that tonight. It wasn’t hard because it was a great team win, I was really happy we got that win and were able to send that message,” Alexander said.

    The sophomore’s physical play was contagious all night for the Vols.  Thanks to Alexander, the Vols started strong out of the gate.

    And they never trailed once in the game.

    Tennessee out-rebounded Kansas State 43-29 (16-7 offensively). Kansas State coach Bruce Weber pointed to that as the x-factor.

    “They play their butts off. They really killed us inside. Second-chance points, Alexander beats his average in the first two minutes of the game, Lew (Evans) with nine (points) and five (rebounds) is probably the difference in the game,” Weber said.

    Tennessee won the second chance points battle 23-9. Grant Williams was a big part of that for UT in the second half, scoring 12 of his 17 after the break.

    “We just tell each other that we’ve got to play hard,” Williams said. “I feel like we’ve matured a little bit, we’ve progressed but we’ve just got to keep moving forward instead of taking steps back.”

    Barnes says rebounding is still a place where UT has to improve.

    “Last game the guards had a lot to do with it. We’re going to rebound it best when the guards get down there. That’s the area we have to improve most in, rebounding,” Barnes said.

    The Wildcats came out of halftime hot, making four of their first five 3-pointers. While Rick Barnes’ was proud of his team’s hustle as a whole in the game, he still needs more energy in the second half, specifically right out of the gate.

    “If we knew for a fact that our team was going to go out and play as hard as they can play every night, I think we’d all feel pretty good about it,” he said. “We didn’t do it at the start of the second half. There was a big difference when we locked in…Out of the locker room, we should not be a step behind.”

    Tennessee showed maturity when Kansas State made a few runs in the second half. The Wildcats cut the lead to single digits once in the second half, but never got closer than nine. Neither team shot the ball particularly well. Kansas State was 40% from the field. Tennessee only shot 37% in the second half.

    It was Tennessee’s bigs who finished off K-State.

    “One of the things with our team has been, we’re young, but being able to finish games,” Alexander said. “We’ve had games where we’ve let teams come back in the end, but we have to do a better job finishing. That’s something we realize now. We’re maturing and learning a lot on the court.”

    Fighting for a Bubble Spot

    Barnes and his team didn’t say much about Tennessee’s potential NCAA Tournament hopes after its second upset win at home this week. But the Vols are certainly in a better spot now than they were a week and a half ago after a road loss to Ole Miss.

    Barnes says his team “can’t get caught up in that.”

    “I don’t know, honestly,” he said. “All I know is that these guys have played one of the toughest schedules in the country. It’s separation month. I’ve seen teams that you think are really good, and you getting going down the stretch and they start going the other way. There’s just a lot of basketball left to play, and there’s probably 150 teams that are in position to make a push to get themselves in postseason play.”

    Grant Williams added that he isn’t concerned with tourney talk.

    “I’m just worrying about the next game,” he said. “We’re worried about going 1-0.”

    “LEWWWWWW”

    Senior forward Lew Evans was energetic and effective off the bench for Tennessee against Kentucky and Kansas State.

    And he’s become a crowd favorite, too.

    In the last two games, Evans scored 17 points and recorded nine rebounds. Three of those points came on this shot right before the half.

    Evans’ 19 minutes off the bench were big, especially since Admiral Schofield only scored two points. Evans provided Tennessee with the spark it needed when K-State made a few runs in the second half.

    Tennessee heads out for a three game road trip this week, starting with Auburn (13-7, 3-5 SEC) on Tuesday night for a 9 p.m. ET tip.