Tennessee’s 83-64 win over Wake Forest on Saturday afternoon was yet another example of just how many ways the No. 3 Vols can beat a team.
In wins over Gonzaga and Memphis this season, senior forward Admiral Schofield carried the load for the Vols. But against the Demon Deacons on Saturday, he scored just two points in the first half on 1-of-5 shooting from the field. He added just one rebound and two assists to go along with a foul.
Schofield would go on to score 10 points in the second half to finish with 12 for the game, but it was the reigning SEC Player of the Year who picked up the slack in the first half. Grant Williams dropped in 17 first half points on 6-of-10 shooting to go along with five rebounds and an assist. More importantly for Williams, he committed just one foul that half.
Williams has a special knack for drawing fouls, and against Wake Forest, that was in full effect. Nine of Williams’ 17 first half points came on three and-ones. He was 5-for-5 at the free throw line in the first half and was 8-of-9 from the charity stripe for the game. Williams is now shooting 79 percent from the free throw line on the season.
“He (Williams) can take a hit,” Barnes said after Saturday’s game. “That is what he does. He can deliver one and take one. He can score through contact.”
To Williams, it’s just about playing hard and getting in the correct position.
“You just have to fight through contact,” Williams said of his ability to draw fouls. “Typically, if you are aggressive and finish through or over someone, it gets you where you need to be because guys are going to contest every shot.”
While Williams stole the show with a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds – his fourth double-double of the season – Kyle Alexander dropped in a quiet 19 points. Alexander’s career-high point total came on 9-of-10 shooting. He added eight rebounds, a block, and a steal as well.
“Coach Barnes has been challenging me to be more consistent,” Alexander said on being more aggressive. “That’s something that I have struggled with in my four years here.
“I really took that personally, and I tried to change that today. I was disappointed in my performance in the last game, so I tried to play more aggressive, and I have been working on some stuff to get more comfortable. I think it paid off today.”
“It was amazing,” junior point guard Jordan Bone said of Alexander’s performance. “We have to continue instilling confidence in him and allow him to know that he’s also a great threat on the offensive end as well as the defensive end.”
With the starters in the backcourt combining for 41 points on 16-of-24 shooting, Bone once again showed complete command of the offense. In his last game out against Samford, Bone logged his first career double-double with a career-high 24 points and career-high 11 assists.
Against the Demon Deacons, Bone scored 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting and dished out five assists. Bone also grabbed four rebounds in 34 minutes while producing a plus/minus of plus-10.
“He’s starting to make some calls on his own out there,” Barnes said of Bone. “He’s starting to recognize defenses a little bit better.”
Bone has now played in 69 career games and started 61 of them at Tennessee. Having seen and been through so many different situations, his experiences in seasons past have resulted in a junior campaign that is thus far the best of his career.
The Nashville native is shooting 44 percent from the field, 83 percent from the free throw line, and is averaging 14.1 points per game, 6.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 32.4 minutes – all career-highs.
“I just think he (Bone) is starting to get a real understanding of what we need to do,” Barnes said. “He has gotten better defensively. That is a big part of it.
“Believe it or not, understanding our team better, his team. He is starting to understand the talk that we had last game. I said, ‘You got really one job as a point guard and that is to make your teammates better. How can you do that?’ I said, ‘You do that by knowing where your space is on the floor and their space on the floor.’ He is doing it. He really does like to pass the ball.”
Aside from the individual performances, opposing coaches have to pick their poison when it comes to defending Tennessee. The Vols are a good three-point shooting team, so do you try to run them off the perimeter? Or do you lock in on defending the paint in order to prevent Williams, Alexander, and Schofield from getting easy looks?
Individually, do you try and limit Williams? Schofield? Bone? Alexander? For opposing coaches, you pick your poison and live with the results.
“We talked about personnel across the board for their (Tennessee) team,” Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said. “Those guys play together very well.”
The craziest part about Tennessee’s success this season is that it sits 10-1 on the season and will likely move to No. 1 or No. 2 in the AP Poll following Kansas’ loss on Saturday night, and they’ve done it mostly without junior guard Lamonte Turner. When Turner recovers from his shoulder injury, the sky is the limit for this Tennessee team.