3 Observations: Vols Upset No. 18 Purdue, 78-75

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    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    Tennessee’s basketball team had their first major test of the 2017-18 season as they took on No. 18 Purdue in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. And the Vols passed that test thanks to a gritty defensive effort and solid games from a trio of talented players.

    The Vols trailed by as much as 11 points in the first half against the Boilermakers, and they trailed the entire first half before tying it up as time expired to go into halftime knotted up at 31 points apiece.

    Tennessee closed the first half on a 15-4 run and extended that into the second half as they jumped out to a 40-33 lead. But Purdue would storm back, and the two teams would exchange the lead multiple times before Lamonte Turner nailed a three with just over five seconds left to tie up the game at 63.

    The two teams headed to overtime, and Purdue jumped out to a quick 70-65 lead. But Tennessee would battle back, and Grant Williams’ jumper with 14 seconds left gave the Vols a 76-75 edge. Two free throws from James Daniel III extended Tennessee’s lead to 78-75, and a good defensive stand late preserved the win for the Vols.

    Here are our three biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s impressive overtime win against No. 18 Purdue.

    Grant Williams Turns it On

    Grant Williams is arguably the best player on Tennessee’s basketball roster this season. He will be leaned on all season as one of Tennessee’s top contributors. And he had a first half to forget against Purdue, missing both of his shots and turning the ball over once.

    But the second half and overtime were all Grant Williams.

    Williams scored all 22 of his points in the second half and overtime, and he led both teams in points. He also chipped in eight rebounds and two assists along with his point outbreak.

    Kyle Alexander, Lamonte Turner with Career Games

    Two relatively unheralded players stepped up in a big way for Tennessee and helped push the Vols to victory over the Boilermakers.

    Kyle Alexander had his best game as a Vol and totaled his first career double-double in college play. Alexander finished with 13 points and 11 boards and had a block and two steals as well. He also hit a clutch three-pointer late in the game.

    Lamonte Turner had arguably his best all-around game of his Vol career. His career-high for points was 24 when he totaled that amount against Presbyterian last season, but his 17 points against Purdue were the second-most in his career, and he also added five rebounds and two assists. He hit the game-tying three at the end of regulation, and he was 4-of-8 from behind the three-point line.

    Defense Came to Play

    Purdue came into this game averaging 102 points per game. Granted, most of that damage had come against “nobody” schools (with the exception of Marquette), but their offense had been electric to start the year.

    Tennessee’s defense, however, had other ideas.

    The Vols held Purdue to 75 points on just 37.3 percent shooting. The Boilermakers were hitting 48.9 percent of their threes heading into this contest, and the Vols made them connect on just 37 percent of them, holding them to just 10 makes on 27 attempts.

    Tennessee forced 18 Boilermaker turnovers, and the Vols out-rebounded Purdue 50-41.

    The Vols knew they were going to need a good defensive effort if they wanted to pull off the upset. And that’s just what they did.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.