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Observations: Williams Shines in No. 6 Vols’ Win Over Louisiana

Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

Two days after No. 6 Tennessee took care of business in its season opener, the Vols were back in action on Friday. And they defeated Louisiana handily by a score of 87-65.

Led by Grant Williams’ 31 points, the Vols (2-0) were dominant for the most of the night after a slower start against the Ragin’ Cajuns (1-1). At the 14-minute mark of the first half, the game was tied 13-13. Tennessee then reeled off an 18-2 run to take a 30-17 lead.

The Vols wouldn’t look back.

Though Tennessee never allowed Louisiana to cut it back within single-digits, the Ragin’ Cajuns heated up in the second half. Leading 48-31 at the break, Tennessee would only out-score Louisiana 39-34 over the final 20 minutes.

Here are our observations from Tennessee’s second win of the season.

Grant Williams Explodes

The reigning SEC Player of the Year was in the building on Friday night.

Williams posted his first double-double of the season, scoring 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting while hauling in 10 rebounds. His 31-point performance was the fourth time during his career in which Williams dropped at least 30 points. The junior even stroked it from the 3-point line, connecting on three of his four attempts. Williams added three assists and three steals.

“Definitely way more confident,” Williams said when asked about his three-point shot compared to a year ago. “My teammates are encouraging me to take more and be confident in shooting them.”

Through two games — the exhibition and the season-opener — Williams was under constant scrutiny from Rick Barnes about his rebounding effort.  He had three rebounds in the exhibition, seven in the season opener, and 10 on Friday. Williams credits not only a fundamental change, but also a tweak in his mindset for the improvement.

“Really have to have a knack for getting the ball,” Williams said. “But also have to understand you can’t rebound the ball if you’re not in position. I have to be out there doing a good job of fighting for my space.”

Inconsistent Defense

Tennessee was great on defense for stretches, and they were sloppy on defense for stretches too.

When Tennessee was its best, though, it was because of Yves Pons. The sophomore changed the game defensively. With the game tied at 13-13, Pons entered the game for the first time at the 14-minute mark and immediately locked up Louisiana point guard Marcus Stroman.

“He (Pons) changed the game,” Barnes said. “Yves is going to be a player we watch grow up right in front of us this year.”

Louisiana is a good offensive team who is well-coached in multiple areas. The Ragin’ Cajuns took advantage of Tennessee over-helping early on and in the second half. Later in the game, as the Vols’ defense shaped up, they held Louisiana to 36 percent shooting from the field.

“We knew early in the game they were going to hit us with some things,” Barnes said as he gave credit to Louisiana head coach Bob Marlin. “But we settled in.”

Taking Care of the Basketball

Tennessee did a tremendous job of taking care of the basketball against Louisiana.

In 40 minutes, Tennessee turned the basketball over just 11 times — seven of them coming from Grant Williams or Admiral Schofield. Though 11 turnovers are more than Barnes wants to see on the stat sheet, Tennessee assisted on 27 of their 34 made baskets.

“We love that,” Barnes said. “We really want to share the ball.”

Tennessee isn’t a heavy ball-screen team, so it predicates its offense’s success on making crisp passes and movement. Sharing the ball is something that Barnes and his staff really want to see. Against the Ragin’ Cajuns, Barnes saw plenty of it.

Playing Big

“I do like playing that big lineup,” Barnes stated after the game.

The lineup he’s referring to is when John Fulkerson and Kyle Alexander are in the front-court, with Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams playing on the perimeter. It’s a lineup we saw plenty of against Louisiana after Kyle Alexander got off to a slow start.

“Almost everything we practice, the ball is going to be inside,” Barnes said. “So that’s going to put John and Kyle inside, and we need those guys to really wanna score the basketball when we have that big lineup.”

Fulkerson and Alexander played well in that lineup, combining for 15 points, three blocks, four assists, and seven rebounds.

Jalen Johnson returns, Lamonte Turner does not

Jalen Johnson returned to action for the Vols after missing the season-opener due to a hamstring injury. In his season-debut, Johnson scored two points and grabbed two rebounds in four minutes.

“Jalen with his tweaked his hamstring, and really yesterday was his first practice back,” Barnes said. “I thought his minutes were solid tonight.”

Lamonte Turner, on the other hand, did not play for a second straight game. Turner had offseason surgery on his shoulder, which is why he was held out of the season-opener. It also kept him out of tonight’s match-up with Louisiana.

“The concern is we want him healthy,” Barnes said of Turner. “I understand shoulder surgery, I’ve had two of them, so I get it.

“Its hard when you can’t raise your arms up the way you want to. Tendinitis is something difficult to deal with. But he’s doing what he needs to do from a rehabilitation standpoint. Hopefully he’ll be ready by the next game.”

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