NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s 2017 season will be remembered for its inconsistent guard play. But in UT’s 59-57 loss to Georgia on Thursday, freshman guards Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bone stole the show.
“We proved a lot of people wrong and we’re going to do the same thing next year,” Bone said after his 14-point performance against the Bulldogs.
His counterpart Turner added 13 points of his own.
Outside of those two (10-for-21), UT was 9-for-37 from the field. Overall, Rick Barnes thought his team competed hard enough to win, specifically on the defensive side. Georgia shot 43% from the field. They also turned the ball over 15 times.
J.J. Frazier was 4-for-13 from the field, but was perfect from the free throw line, converting all eight of his attempts.
At the end of the day, a young team got out-dueled by a wily veteran in Frazier.
“The ball wasn’t going in, so I just had to make plays another way,” Frazier said. “I started just trying to get to the line and trying to see the ball go in and make different types of plays.”
Turner and Bone showed that they can have a similar impact on a game later in their careers. After inconsistent seasons, both players’ year culminated in an effort that would usually win them the game. Barnes credited Bone with massive improvement over the year. He says that the game is still a learning experience.
“Believe me, he has improved tenfold when you get back to where we started in the fall, in the spring, even the summer,” Barnes said. “But I think he showed us all at times he has the ability, and now it’s up to us to get him to understand the game.”
Expectations are going to rise substantially next season compared to the last one. If you asked Tennessee’s players and coaches, they’re ready to get started right now.
The Vols certainly won’t be picked No. 13 in the conference like they were this past fall.
“I hope there’s a lot more expectations to start next year,” Barnes said. “At the end of the game today we had four freshmen and one sophomore on the court..the lesson is how quickly this ends…I’m excited to get started right now.”
But with every exciting beginning in a program rebuild there is a bitter departure. That was the reality for seniors Robert Hubbs and Lew Evans.
Hubbs was scoreless in the second half, tallying six points on 3-of-11 shooting for the game. Evans was 0-for-5 from the field and fouled out with under a minute to play.
Even through the disappointment of his final collegiate game, Evans has very high expectations for this young group of Vols.
“These young guys grow faster than normally freshmen would grow. There are guys on this team I can see as all-conference players. There are guys I can see playing after college,” Evans said.
After one year with Barnes, Evans is sold on his coach’s ability to continue Tennessee’s program reboot.
“The future is bright here at Tennessee,” he said. “This is a program that’s going to be in the top 25 every single year with what Coach Barnes is doing. I think they’re going to be one of the top teams in the country every single year.”
Georgia’s juniors and seniors accounted for 47 of the Bulldogs’ 59 points. Tennessee’s juniors and seniors had six points. All of those were scored by Hubbs in the first half.
Tennessee doesn’t even have a single junior on its roster. Forty of the Vols’ points were scored by freshmen.
While Barnes is confident in the future of his program, he understands that there is lots of work to be done.
“(Georgia) has got their seniors…that’s who they played through,” Barnes said. “That’s what you expect from a senior team with guys that have been around. We’re going to get to that eventually, but again I’m excited. I’m looking forward to getting started right now because I know we’re going to add some more pieces to our program. We’re going to have a different look. But we know that we’ve got it going in the right direction.”