No. 1 Tennessee defeated West Virginia 83-66 on Saturday afternoon despite a sluggish start.
Though Jordan Bone scored the first points of the game, the Mountaineers (9-11) went on a 19-5 run to take a 19-7 lead. 3-point shooting sparked the West Virginia run. Five of the first seven made baskets were 3-pointers and all of them were from different Mountaineers.
“We just settled on the offensive end,” Barnes said of the early offensive struggles. “We had no concept of what we were trying to do, and we just shot it.”
Tennessee (18-1) locked down on the defensive end following the opposing run. Following the Mountaineer three to take a 12-point lead, West Virginia made just one shot the remainder of the half – a simple jump shot. Led by a brilliant defensive effort, Tennessee finished the first half on a 24-2 run. West Virginia didn’t score during a nine minute stretch from 11:05 to 1:34 of the opening half and Tennessee led 31-21 at the break.
Over the course of the first 20 minutes, Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams struggled despite combining for 14 points. Schofield was 2-of-9 from the field and Williams struggled to find a rhythm on either end of the floor.
Instead, it was Lamonte Turner who led the Vols. Turner scored 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the 3-point line. He also had a steal, a block and an assist. As a team, Tennessee shot 34.5 percent from the field.
The offense had a much easier time finding its rhythm in the second half. Over the final 20 minutes, Tennessee shot 59.4 percent from the field and made three of its seven attempts from beyond the arch. Turner was once again one of the leading scorers, scoring 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the second half. Jordan Bowden had 13 points while Schofield added 11.
With the offense flowing, the defense slipped a bit after putting West Virginia in handcuffs during the first half. The Mountaineers shot 59 percent in the second half after starting the game 28 percent from the field. West Virginia would score 45 points in the second half.
Here are our biggest observations from Tennessee’s 14th win in a row – its longest win streak since the 1922-23 season.
The Lamonte Turner game
For the first time since the game against Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 28, Rick Barnes made a lineup change.
Jordan Bowden began the season in the rotation, starting the first five games until Yves Pons replaced him following a slow start to the season. Pons proceeded to start 13 straight games. But of late, the France native has been struggling on both ends of the floor. As a result, Barnes inserted Turner into the starting lineup for the first time all season against West Virginia.
“We felt like they might start the game trying to take Jordan Bone out to where we couldn’t get the ball to him,” Barnes said of Turner starting. “We didn’t want to put the pressure on Admiral (Schofield) and Yves (Pons) trying to think they had to handle the ball. That’s the only reason we did it.
“It was for him to have the ball longer and to start the game with another guard in, basically. It kind of helped us with the rotation between the guards a little bit better.”
The North Alabama native made the most of his first start of the season. Turner led the Vols in the opening half with the offense struggling and scored a game-high and season-high 23 points. His 8-of-10 shooting form the field was his best clip of the season, and his five assists tied a season-high.
“Me and Coach (Barnes) kind of talked about it last week,” Turner said about starting. “I kind of had an idea I would be starting the two.”
“I had a job coming out defensively,” Turner added about his performance. “Defensively, just trying to bring pressure. Handle the ball through their pressure. That was really my focus.”
Defense sees improvement
Barnes has been a big critic of his team’s defense of late after struggling in games against Arkansas, Alabama and Vanderbilt. But on Saturday afternoon, the Vols were able to hang their hat on the defensive end – at least in the first half.
With the offense struggling to make open shots, Tennessee’s defensive broke out the handcuffs down 19-7 with 11:05 remaining in the first half. From that point on, West Virginia scored just two points as the Vols closed the half on a 24-2 run. It led to the Mountaineers shooting 28.6 percent from the field, 10 turnovers and a stretch of just over nine minutes in which they couldn’t score the basketball.
“Defensively, I thought that we’ve played maybe as well as we’ve played all year in the first half,” Barnes said of his team not allowing a single West Virginia player to reach double-figures in scoring during the first half.
“We did a good job on the defensive end,” Williams added.
The Admiral continues to struggle
Schofield has been in quite the funk recently, at least in terms of shooting the basketball.
That funk continued in front of a capacity crowd. The senior forward started off 2-of-9 from the field including 0-of-3 from the 3-point line. Schofield found a better rhythm in the second half, shooting 3-of-7 and 1-of-2 from three. On the day he finished with 14 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
Though Schofield continues to struggle shooting the ball, he is at least impacting the game in other areas. Along with his 14 points, he pulled down 10 rebounds to record his third double-double of the season. Schofield pulled down eight rebounds in the first half alone. He also had two assists, a block and a steal.
“There was no doubt that he was pressing,” Barnes said of Schofield. “But he settled in and ended up with a double-double.
“He has to understand that he is a better basketball player than that. All players go through periods where they don’t make shots, but you just can’t get in your own head and just play the game. He puts too much time into it to put pressure on himself.”
Following their 14th consecutive win and 20th consecutive home win, the top-ranked Volunteers hit the road for a two-game road trip. Tennessee will travel to Columbia, South Carolina on Tuesday night for a date with the Gamecocks at 6:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. The Vols will then travel to College Station on Saturday to take on Texas A&M at 8 p.m. ET.
“Absolutely,” Barnes responded when asked if today’s game was good preparation for the Gamecocks’ physical style of play. “We’re going to see the same thing on Tuesday night in Columbia, and we’ll get at it the same way: very physical, hard-nose, trying to run you of your offense.”
Tennessee’s next home game will be against Missouri on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 9 p.m. ET.