First-year Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper made her unofficial debut on Rocky Top on Tuesday night when Tennessee defeated Carson-Newman 70-44 in an exhibition match-up.
In their lone exhibition game before the season officially begins next Tuesday, the Lady Vols shot 35.4 percent from the field as they beat the Lady Eagles for the seventh season in a row. Tennessee was just 2-of-15 from beyond the 3-point line.
“Proud that we got the win,” Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper sad following the game. “You never take those for granted. I thought we had good effort, and I thought there were a lot of things that we need to learn.”
UT began the game scoring 12-straight points before ultimately extending their lead to 14-3. Carson-Newman would remain relatively within reach thanks to three made 3-pointers, but the Lady Vols closed the quarter on a 10-0 run to lead 26-9 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter wasn’t as pretty for Harper’s bunch. Tennessee scored just 12 points in the quarter, but thanks to a strong defensive performance in the frame that held Carson-Newman to just four points, the Lady Vols took a 36-13 lead into the break.
At halftime, Rae Burrell led UT with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Rennia Davis chipped in six points, while Jaiden McCoy, Zaay Green, and Tamari Key each had four. As a team, the Lady Vols shot 34 percent from the field, but they held the Lady Eagles to just 12 percent shooting.
Carson-Newman found offensive success in the third quarter, scoring more points in the frame than they did the entire first half. The Lady Eagles dropped 18 points in the quarter, but they only managed to cut the Lady Vols’ lead from 25 points to 21 points. Seven different Lady Vols scored in the frame despite being out-scored 18-16.
Tennessee managed to bounce back in the final frame, out-scoring Carson-Newman 18-13. Nine of the Lady Eagles’ points came from the 3-point line. At one point, UT led by 32 in the fourth quarter, but they finished with a 26-point win.
Here are a couple of observations from the Lady Vols’ exhibition win over Carson-Newman.
It may just be an exhibition game, but in the Lady Vols’ first game out in 2019, the starting lineup consisted of Jazmine Massengill, Zaay Green, Rennia Davis, Jaiden McCoy, and Kasiyahna Kushkituah. Davis scored 20 points in 21 minutes, while Massengill and Green combined to score nine points. In the post, McCoy and Kushkituah combined for 10 points and 12 rebounds.
While it may have been the first lineup we’ve seen all year, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be the lineup going forward. That goes for the rotation outside of the starting five as well.
“I don’t know how many will make the consistent rotation, but right now, it’s open, we’ve gotta have players we can count on to be consistent and do the little things,” Harper said. “If you do that for me, you’ll get into the game.
“Tonight, we knew we were going to play everybody. I had the minutes scripted out prior to the game, so I knew exactly when we were going to sub. So, there were some possessions where I would have normally subbed, but I wanted to let it play out.”
Coach Harper wasn’t the only one debuting on Tuesday night.
Technically the Lady Vols have six newcomers this season, but considering sixth-year senior Lou Brown is back from injury after missing all of last year as a grad transfer, Harper has seven new faces in her rotation. Those new arrivals saw their first action in a Tennessee uniform against Carson-Newman.
Freshmen Jordan Horston (3-of-12), JUCO transfer Jaiden McCoy (2-of-8), and freshman Tamari Key (2-of-5) each scored six points. Horston also had four rebounds, four steals, and two assists, while McCoy had three offensive boards on her way to five total rebounds. Key had four rebounds, a block, and an assist.
“Early on, we had some folks that were really trying to ward those off and stay focused, but I thought they handled it and got through that,” Harper said. “So, hopefully now we’re over the hump there, we’ve played a game with the uniform, with the officials, and they’ll be better next time. That’s what exhibition games are for.”
In her first action since tearing her ACL, Brown played 12 minutes and scored four points on 2-of-3 shooting. She also had two rebounds.
“We’re gonna be in a little bit of a maintenance situation with Lou,” Harper said. “She’s a little bit older than the rest of the players and battling those injuries. So, we’re going to make sure she’s feeling good.”
In addition to Horston and Key, fellow freshmen Jessie Rennie and Emily Saunders also made their unofficial debut. Both were scoreless on the night. Rennie was 0-of-4 from three in 20 minutes, while Saunders didn’t attempt a shot in 11 minutes.
“Horston was definitely nervous before the game,” Harper said. “She is really good. I know she had a few turnovers, but she’s going to be an excellent player.”
Davis Leading the Way
Junior forward Rennia Davis led Tennessee, scoring a game-high 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Davis was 2-of-4 from the 3-point line to go along with eight rebounds, three of which came on the offensive glass.
More impressively, Davis played tremendous defense. She blocked a shot and only picked up one foul over the course of 21 minutes. Her plus/minus was +18.
“She’s athletic, she’s long, and she has some savvy, a little bit of anticipation skills, and she plays hard,” Harper said of Davis. “You throw all those things in, you mix it up, pour it out, and you’ve got a pretty good defensive player.”
Davis said after the game that she has no choice but to play defense because that’s what the team needs most from her.
“I don’t feel like I have a choice but to play defense right now,” Davis added. “I feel like that’s what my team needs from me, to be consistent defensively.”
Tennessee will begin its season in earnest on the road next Tuesday at East Tennessee State. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.
The Lady Vols will then return home to face Central Arkansas in their home-opener for the regular season on Nov. 7.