Top-Ranked Vols Looking to Stay on Track Against Texas A&M

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    Coming off a 22-point road win over South Carolina earlier this week, Rick Barnes met with the media to recap the win over the Gamecocks, give an update on Jordan Bowden, and preview the Vols’ next matchup with Texas A&M.

    Here’s what Barnes had to say on Thursday afternoon in Pratt Pavilion.

    Jordan Bowden’s Health

    Aside from the win, the biggest storyline following the Vols’ game over the Gamecocks was that Bowden didn’t play.

    Nobody outside of the program knew about Bowden’s injury until the SEC Network announced he had hurt his knee during shootaround earlier that morning. Even more surprising, Barnes didn’t know Bowden wasn’t going to play until minutes before the game.

    “I’m serious, they told me 10 minutes before the game,” Barnes said following the South Carolina game. “And they kept working on him. When they came back in the last time, with 12 minutes on the clock, he just didn’t think he could go.”

    No. 1 Tennessee would go on to win by 22 despite Bowden sitting out. In his place, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bone combined to score 32 points on 12-of-21 shooting. Admiral Schofield also stepped up, scoring a team-high 24 points.

    “I honestly didn’t know until halftime,” Schofield said of Bowden’s absence. “I said, ‘You’re not playing tonight?’ He said no. I said I thought they just weren’t putting you in.”

    Though the injury popped up out of nowhere, there’s no serious cause for concern. Barnes promised after the game that Bowden would be ready for Texas A&M. He reaffirmed that on Thursday.

    “They’re still working on him,” Barnes stated. “We’ll probably know more tomorrow, and he’ll be fine. I’ll be surprised if he isn’t ready to play because he’s a hard one to keep out.

    “He didn’t even tell anyone that he was having the pain that he was having until shootaround. He’s the kind of person that would wait until the very end like that.”

    Bowden is averaging 10.9 points per game this season and 16.2 points per game in six SEC contests.

    Staying on Track

    Tennessee is nearly two weeks into being ranked No. 1 in the country. Following an overtime scare against Vanderbilt in their first game ranked No. 1, the Vols have won back-to-back games by 17 points and 22 points. With games coming up against teams that Tennessee is far superior than on paper, it’s all about staying on track now that the initial shine of being the top-ranked team has worn off.

    “You have to expect people to play their best basketball, and I think our guys understand that,” Barnes explained. “I also think now more than ever that they more about what we do.

    “We have to make sure we focus on what we do and what we are about. Our preparation, not just the day of the game, but the day before. I really felt that was the case when we went into South Carolina. I think those guys knew that it did not matter if we were ranked or not. If you are playing South Carolina, you know you are going to have to be ready to play.”

    Kyle Alexander’s Foul Troubles

    Tennessee’s big post presence hasn’t had the best stretch of games lately.

    In wins over West Virginia and South Carolina, Kyle Alexander fouled out after playing just 12 minutes against the Mountaineers and 10 minutes against the Gamecocks. In each game, Alexander was 1-of-3 from the field for two points. He’s grabbed seven rebounds in both games combined.

    “I think it goes back to being on edge a little bit,” Barnes said of Alexander. “The first foul he picked up (last game) he actually did not get called for and it was a big-time foul. When he got held on the screen he was supposed to be on the other side of the screen. He got called for a foul and I think the ref called it because he missed the first one.”

    Barnes also said that Alexander simply being in tune with the scouting report would help him as well.

    “We specifically walked him through that situation, because he got that called on him the year before.” Barnes said. “He had it in shootaround and did not execute it.

    “Being in tune with the scouting report is going to be a big thing. Another big thing is that he is always at his best when he gets to work early. It dictates how he gets around if he is playing catch up. Every one of his fouls the last few games have been because he got off his feet. A couple of fouls last game he was just not on edge.”

    On to the Next

    The top-ranked Volunteers now turn their attention to a Texas A&M team that has had a miserable season to this point.

    With the loss of veteran guard Admon Gilder, it’s taken the Aggies a while to settle in and find their identity on the offensive side of the ball. Sophomores TJ Starks and Savion Flagg have stepped up in Gilder’s absence, leading the team in scoring at 13.3 points per game and 12.3 points, respectively. Junior Wendell Mitchell is leading the team in scoring throughout SEC play at over 11.0 points per game.

    “When you are losing a guy you’re counting on, Admon Gilder, I have a lot of respect for that guy,” Barnes said of the Aggie veteran. “He is one of their leaders, and now it means guys have to take other roles.”

    Texas A&M sits at just 8-11 on the season and 1-6 in conference play, but last week in the SEC/Big 12 challenge, the Aggies pulled off an impressive win over a red-hot Kansas State team.

    “Billy Kennedy is one of the best coaches there is around,” Barnes said. “What stands out to me is that they beat a team last week that was playing as good as anybody. They handled them pretty easy and hung around with LSU.

    “We know they are a team that can do some ball screening and mix defenses. They have some other things they do, playing off the elbow with their offense. The respect we have to have against every opponent, they are going to fight and battle, and we have to be ready for that challenge.”

    Tennessee and Texas A&M are set to tip off from College Station at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday.