No. 3 Tennessee led wire-to-wire on Saturday afternoon, as the Vols defeated Tennessee Tech 96-53 in their first game back from Christmas break.
Despite a couple of silly turnovers in the opening two minutes, the first half was a highlight reel for Tennessee. There were many Yves Pons dunks, but Grant Williams led the way, scoring 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field.
Tennessee shot 74.2 percent in the opening 20 minutes to take a 51-33 lead into the locker room. The offensive success was primarily due to the play of Jordan Bone, who once again showed great command of the offense. Bone scored 12 points and dished out six assists and constantly put his teammates in great positions.
Bone would finish with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He added 10 assists to record his second double-double of the season. Bone is the first player to record two double-doubles in a season from points and assists since Tyrone Beaman did it during the 1982-83 season.
The second half was the Admiral Schofield and John Fulkerson show. With Tennessee continuing to shoot a high-clip from the field, Fulkerson sparked the team with his play on the defensive end of the floor, leading to multiple dunks on the offensive end. The Vols held Tech to just 20 points in the half as Fulkerson and Schofield both scored nine points.
“In the second half, I said that we had to develop more of a defensive mentality and we did,” Rick Barnes said following the game. “We were much better defensively in the second half than we were in the first half.”
Here are our observations from Tennessee’s 11th win of the season and its last game before conference play begins.
Taking Care of Business
As the final score indicated, Tennessee took care of business on Saturday, as the game was never really in doubt. The Vols led for 39:36 out of the 40 minutes of action and have now won eight straight and 17 in a row at home. It’s the longest home winning streak of Barnes’ tenure in Knoxville.
The Vols dominated Tech in every possible way. In front of a season-high 21,165 fans, Tennessee shot 63.8 percent from the field, also a season-high. UT out-scored TTU 62-28 in the paint, scored 24 points off of 17 Golden Eagle turnovers, scored 12 second-chance points, had 25 fast break points, and out-scored Tech’s bench 23-9. Even more impressive, Tennessee scored 96 points on just four made three-pointers. They attempted just eight on the day.
“That’s the confidence we have in each other,” Bone said when asked about Tennessee’s hot-streak from the field. “Not just the first five guys, but the guys that come off the bench and bring in minutes, too. We have the same confidence in the starting five and the guys who come off the bench.”
Sure the offense was terrific – it has been all season – but the Vols’ defense in the second half was tremendous. Tennessee blocked 12 shots, picked up 10 steals, and committed just 16 fouls. On the defensive glass, the Vols out-rebounded Tech 29-14.
Individually, everyone chipped in.
Williams, Schofield, and Fulkerson combined for 56 points on 23-of-26 shooting. Along with Bone’s double-double, Kyle Alexander chipped in three blocks and eight points on 4-of-5 shooting. Pons scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds, had a block, recorded a steal, and had many exciting dunks.
“We know what everyone’s capabilities are on the team,” Schofield said. “We know we have a lot of talent even if it doesn’t look like it on paper. We try to make things easier on each guy by putting them in situations to be successful.”
The Vols even had a season-high 12 dunks against the Golden Eagles.
The Fulk Brings the Funk
Although Tennessee didn’t necessarily need to be energized on Saturday afternoon, John Fulkerson energized his teammates and the Thompson-Boling crowd plenty – particularly in the second half.
“We know he’s capable,” Barnes said of Fulkerson. “He has a nice jump hook, his turnaround jumper has gotten better, and we need him.”
It was Fulkerson’s best game to date, scoring a career-high 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting. He added four rebounds, two blocks, two steals, and an assist in 19 minutes of action.
“It feels good,” Fulkerson said. “It feels like all the time we put in is finally paying off and to see us having that much success as a team is great.”
To cap the day, Fulkerson checked out to a standing ovation. There were even some “Fulky” chants coming from the student section throughout the game.
Tennessee now turns its attention to conference play after going 11-1 in non-conference play to start the season. The Vols will take on Georgia at home next Saturday. Tip-off is set for 3:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.
“There’s a lot of things we can improve on,” Bone said. “I think the main thing is defense, on-the-ball defense, and help-side defense. Just our entire defensive scheme we can get better.
“We are a really good offensive team when we do what we are supposed to do, but I think we need to take that next step defensively as a team.”