Once again, Saturday’s dominating win over Georgia showed just how versatile Tennessee is.
Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield – otherwise known as Peanut Butter and Jelly – turned in their usual performance, combining for 36 points on 10-of-16 shooting to go along with 14 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and a block.
As great as the dynamic duo were, it was Kyle Alexander and Jordan Bowden who gave the Bulldogs the most fits throughout the game.
Bowden scored 20 points, one point shy of tying his career-high. He was 1-of-4 from the 3-point line, but he was as aggressive as we’ve seen him all season. Bowden hit multiple mid-range jumpers to finish 8-of-13 from the field despite the poor clip from distance.
Coming into Saturday’s game, Bowden had scored just 17 points combined over his last three games, shooting just 2-of-14 combined in those three games. But that all changed against Georgia.
“Seeing the first one [go down] felt good and gave me a little boost,” Bowden said following the game. “I didn’t feel like I was in a slump, just missing shots.”
From Rick Barnes’ standpoint, Bowden’s hot shooting night almost didn’t happen. The Knoxville native had been stringing together good practices, but Barnes didn’t see the same edge from him early on in the game.
“The first time I took him out, I said to him, ‘If you’re not going to play the way you practiced, we’re not going to play you,’” Barnes explained. “He turned down some shots early.
“Everyone knows who we’re wanting to go for, and he’s (Bowden) one of those guys. The turnover that he threw underneath the basket, it wasn’t there. I thought he came back and let the offense work for him. He did his work early. He came off screens looking to attack areas that he’s very effective with, but he has to continue.”
Georgia entered the game ranked second in the country in defensive rebounding (32.0 rpg), fourth in blocks per game (6.3 bpg), and seventh in total rebounds per game (43.2 rpg). UT held the Bulldogs to just 21 defensive rebounds, two blocks, and 30 total rebounds.
Why was Tennessee able to give Georgia such nightmares in the paint? Because of Kyle Alexander, the Vols’ senior forward.
“I thought Kyle Alexander may have been as good as he’s been,” Barnes stated. “He came out and really had a presence early on in the defensive end, rebounding the ball.”
That he did. Alexander recorded his second double-double of the season with 12 points and 14 rebounds while also blocking a shot. Georgia had scored at least 80 points in six games this season, but Alexander was the biggest reason Tennessee held the Bulldogs to just 50 points.
“I came into today’s game with the mindset that I was going to try and grab every rebound that I could,” Alexander said. “It worked out in my favor.”
Along with what Tennessee prevented Georgia from doing on offense as a team, the Vols held the Bulldogs’ star players in check.
Nicolas Claxton – the reigning SEC Player of the Week – entered the game ranked eighth in the nation in blocks and 15th in rebounds. In 24 minutes, Tennessee held him to just six points and five rebounds. In the first half, Claxton picked up four fouls.
In addition to Claxton, the Vols held Georgia’s leading scorer. Rayshaun Hammonds, to zero points. He had been averaging 15.0 points per game.
“I credit that to great coaching,” Alexander said of the defense not letting up the entire game. “We’ve had some games this year where we came out in the first half and played great and then came out in the second half and our defensive intensity slipped.
“So that’s the only thing that coach said when he came into the locker room at halftime. He said we were going to see how mature we were and see if we could keep the intensity up, so that was kind of a challenge to us and I think we tried to do our best to keep that intensity up.”
With as good of a start to conference play as possible, Tennessee (12-1, 1-0 SEC) now turns its attention to Missouri (9-3). The Vols will travel to Columbia on Tuesday night to take on former head coach Cuonzo Martin. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.