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Column: Vols Take Step in Right Direction Despite Near Full Collapse

Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

Well, it almost happened again.

The Vols had a big lead. And then all of a sudden…they didn’t.

With 14 minutes to play in Tennessee’s 67-62 win over Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, Tennessee was cruising. They were up by 20, and Vandy’s star point guard Saben Lee had four fouls.

Life was good. That is, until Riley LaChance woke up and made it a game.

Over the next 12 minutes, the Commodores would get fight and claw their way to within two points of the Vols. And Vol fans were watching a familiar story unfold yet again.

But they never reclaimed the lead. Despite the frustration of a lead evaporating, that’s still a good sign for a team that’s completely collapsed before.

Up two, Admiral Schofield made a nice pass out of a double team to find Lamonte Turner for an open 3.

Turner had a killer instinct. He knocked it down, making it a five point game.

The one positive Rick Barnes took away after the game? The Vols never trailed in the second half.

“That would be a positive,” Barnes stated. “We allowed them, well, I don’t want to say we allowed them. They got back in the game. And we found a way. Lamonte Turner’s shot was a big one.”

They found a way.

Which didn’t happen against North Carolina. Or Villanova. And then again on the road at Arkansas.

Turner didn’t just win the game on his clutch 3 with a minute to go. He volunteered to guard Riley LaChance, who had just scored 25 points in 18 minutes.

He wanted the pressure. And his killer instinct against LaChance won UT the game.

For a guy who shoots as much as he does, that’s a sign of significant growth.

“Lamonte is lightyears from where he started,” Barnes said. “I thought he really tried to play hard on the defensive end, and then he knocked down a big shot.”

So how do you explain the collapse? Grant Williams (18 points) said aggressiveness is the key.

He said that the Vols aren’t getting complacent. They just aren’t attacking.

“Riley LaChance broke me down three possessions in a row,” Williams said after the game. “And that started it all. On the offensive end, he hit some really tough shots.

“It’s not even complacency; it’s more of crediting the offense.”

His coach may have taken some positives away from holding on in the end. But Williams wasn’t quite satisfied.

He was “sort of” pleased to at least keep the lead.

The killer instinct is starting to develop. But there’s still lots of work to be done.

“I feel like we didn’t really shut them down,” Williams said. “I feel like we did a better job in the first half on the defensive end…there’s a step we need to take that we haven’t gotten yet.”

This team is far from a finished product. Barnes continued to tinker with his rotation on Tuesday night. Derrick Walker and Yves Pons both played considerable minutes. John Fulkerson, Chris Darrington and Jalen Johnson didn’t see the floor.

When asked about what he’s learned about his team through SEC play, Barnes replied with “I’ve learned we’re inconsistent.”

And that perfectly sums it up. Putting away sub-500 Vandy at home isn’t this team’s biggest accomplishment by any means. But in past years, they may have given away the lead late and never taken it back.

Barnes’ guys are still learning how to put teams away. And despite the second half inefficiency, Tuesday night was a step in the right direction.

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