Barnes Looking to Spark Pons, Concerned with Defensive Gators

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    Rick Barnes met with the media on Thursday afternoon ahead of No. 3 Tennessee’s road trip to Gainesville on Saturday.

    The trip to Florida will be the second of a two-game road trip. Tennessee (13-1, 2-0 SEC) is coming off a dominating 87-63 win over Missouri and former head coach Cuonzo Martin. In the win, the Volunteers got off to a slow start. Despite Grant Williams finishing with four points and Admiral Schofield starting off poorly, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, Kyle Alexander, and Lamonte Turner led Tennessee to its ninth win in a row.

    Here’s what Barnes had to say regarding the Vols’ win over the Tigers, adding yet another home-and-home series to the schedule, and what he’s seen out of Florida early on this season.

    Bring on the Badgers

    Tennessee announced on Thursday that it had added a home-and-home series with Wisconsin. The two teams will play two games beginning with the Badgers traveling to Knoxville on Dec. 28, 2019. Tennessee will play in Madison on Nov. 11, 2020.

    “I’ve always had a lot of respect for Wisconsin,” Barnes said. “We had that series while we were at Texas. They have a great basketball following. You look, they’re always one of the top teams in the country with attendance. It’s a great atmosphere to go into.”

    The two programs have met four times in basketball. Each have won twice, with Wisconsin winning the most recent match-up during the 2016 Maui Invitational. Tennessee lost its only trip to Madison by a score of 65-62 on Dec. 29, 2001.

    “I just have a lot of respect for their program and the way they do things,” Barnes said. “That’s why it really came about. And I think it’s going to be good for both of us.”

    Recapping Mizzou

    With Williams and Schofield struggling so much in the first half, the play of Bone, Bowden, Alexander, and Turner was crucial.

    Thanks to five made three-pointers, Missouri led 27-18 with seven minutes to go in the first half before Tennessee went on a 13-0 run to claim the lead. After trailing by nine, the Vols wouldn’t look back, going on to win by 24.

    The lineup that sparked the run didn’t include Schofield or Williams, but rather the likes of Bone, Bowden, Alexander, and Turner – with John Fulkerson and Derrick Walker rotating in-and-out of the four-spot.

    “I thought it was so important having Lamonte (Turner) back,” Barnes said of the win. “I think his presence on the court and his confidence, you could tell that he and Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden were really locked in to each other, the way they were running and moving the ball.

    “What Kyle did for the last two games has really been phenomenal, watching him go about what he’s doing. Then you throw in John Fulkerson and Derrick Walker. I thought, again, the confidence they played with and the poise was really, really important.”

    Bone scored 12 points during Tennessee’s dominating stretch to end the half, and Bowden chipped in seven. Turner and Alexander both scored six.

    Bowden led the team in scoring, reaching the 20-point mark – one point off his career-high – for a second straight game. Bone would go on to finish with 17 points, five assists, five rebounds, a block, and a steal – while Turner finished with nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from the 3-point line.

    With the post presence of Williams and Schofield missing, Alexander grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds to go along with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting.

    “I don’t know, since we’ve been here, if those two guys (Schofield and Williams) played as poorly in one half as those two played against Missouri,” Barnes said. “But to have teammates that were able to pick it up and go with it, it’s something we’re all excited about.”

    Schofield was able to get it going in the second half and finish with 16 points, but Williams never picked up his game. The reigning SEC Player of the Year fouled out, finishing with four points while shooting just 1-of-8 from the floor. Williams grabbed just one rebound on the night.

    Barnes simply gives credit to Missouri for making life difficult on Williams.

    “Missouri made a conscious effort that they were going to work hard and be physical inside, take away what we could get inside,” Barnes explained. “I think you have to give compliments to them for what they did.”

    Air Pons is not clear for takeoff

    Jordan Bowden lost his job to Yves Pons earlier this season after a cold start to the year.

    But as of late, Pons has been the one that has cooled off despite several strong games after taking over as the starter. Against Missouri, the French native played just nine minutes and scored three points on 1-of-2 shooting.

    “He’s one of those players where it means so much to him that sometimes you can get yourself wound up too tight,” Barnes said of Pons. “I think Yves is there. I told him that yesterday.

    “I actually sat down with him and showed him on paper that, believe it or not, he’s shooting a higher percentage from the three than Jordan Bowden. Free throw-wise, he’s not there, but he’s only had 11 attempts. But I showed him how Jordan Bowden has been scoring points, and it had nothing to do with shooting the ball. It had to do with understanding the offense, understanding where those opportunities would come and not putting yourself in trouble by just dribbling the ball to dribble it. It goes back to he wants it so badly, and he wants to do the right thing, almost to a fault.”

    Scouting Florida

    The Gators (9-5, 1-1 SEC) are coming off a 57-51 road win over Arkansas – a game removed from losing to South Carolina at home.

    Statistically speaking, Florida is one of the best defensive teams in the country. Allowing just 60.0 points per game, its scoring defense ranks eighth among all 353 Division I college basketball teams. Florida has held opponents to fewer than 60 points on six occasions this season.

    “They love to get up and press, and they can show you other looks on the other end to keep you off balance,” Barnes said of Florida. “They are a team with some very young, talented players.”

    Senior guard KeVaughn Allen leads the Gators in scoring (10.9) and steals (1.6) while ranking second in assists (2.6). With Allen doing it all for Florida, Noah Locke is the only other double-digit scorer at 10.0 points per game. Locke is shooting 42 percent from the 3-point line.

    “You’re always concerned when there are four or fives guys on the floor who can score points, especially behind the arc,” Barnes said. “They can be explosive that way.”

    Ben McKee
    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also the host of the RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.