Jordan Horston arrived on campus over the summer as the No. 2 overall player in the country. It only took until the second game of her freshman season for her to show why.
Scoring a game-high 17 points, Horston helped lead the Lady Vols (2-0) to a 63-36 win over Central Arkansas in UT’s home opener on Thursday night.
“She (Horston) felt good, the spacing for her was good,” first-year Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper said following the game. “Early on, we were able to get stops, which put her in the open court and in transition. She’s really good there.”
Horston finished 7-of-9 from the field and made both of her 3-point attempts. She also had five rebounds, three assists, and two blocks in 27 minutes. Horston finished with a team-best plus/minus of plus-22.
The performance in her home debut came just two nights after leading Tennessee in turnovers despite beating East Tennessee State on the road in the season opener.
“Game one is not always easy for freshmen,” Harper said of Horston. “You’ll see her continue to improve.
“I think Jordan is a play-maker, and sometimes play-makers will make some turnovers. We were very fortunate she didn’t (tonight).”
For Horston, the game moved slower for her in Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday night.
“I feel like I just slowed down and played my game,” Horston added on the difference between games. “The first couple of games, I was a little jittery, and I had to slow down and let the game come to me.”
Here are a couple of observations from the Lady Vols win over Central Arkansas.
Dynamic Freshmen Duo
Horston wasn’t the only freshman who shined on Thursday. Tamari Key chipped in eight points and five rebounds in her first career start after securing a double-double in her first career game on Tuesday.
“There’s no doubt those two are really talented,” Harper said. “You can see the dynamic play that Jordan had and the fundamentals Tamari has. I’m really excited for both of those players and their future.
“They’re still young, they’re going to learn. This was a good step for them.”
Horston and Key combined for 25 points on the night. They added 10 rebounds and four assists in addition to blocking five shots.
Harper was not pleased with the defensive intensity from her team in the first half. Central Arkansas scored 18 points in the first quarter and only trailed by eight at halftime. The Sugar Bears shot 44 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes.
“We got after it at halftime,” Harper said. “I told them they weren’t giving us what we needed defensively.”
Following the halftime speech, Tennessee allowed just 11 points in the entire second half. Central Arkansas shot 14.7 percent from the field and was just 1-of-15 from behind the 3-point line. The Lady Vols outscored the Sugar Bears 30-11 over the final 20 minutes of action.
“I felt like Central Arkansas was a little too comfortable in the first half, and we changed that,” Harper said. “We changed the tone with our defensive effort in the second half.”
“We had a huge emphasis on defense, and we wanted to make sure in the second half we really locked in on the defensive end,” senior forward Lou Brown added. “To do that, we need to have chemistry, be knowing and talking to each other. We have really great relationships on this team, and that helped.”
A Return Home
Harper doesn’t get uptight, and she’s often even-keeled. It was who she was as a player, and now it’s part of who she is as a head coach. But being back on Rocky Top, her alma mater where she won three national championships as a player, she wants to always appreciate how unique of an opportunity this is for her family.
“I was hoping to take it in a little bit more, but I just go right to task-mode, what needs to be done, focused on the team, on the game,” Harper said of her home debut as head coach. “But it will never get old walking out to Rocky Top. Ever.”
The Sparta, Tennessee native made her unofficial debut as the Lady Vols’ head coach last Tuesday in an exhibition win over Carson-Newman. Thursday night served as her official home debut and was her first game back in Knoxville donning orange.
“I love coming out and seeing our fans. I love Thompson-Boling Arena, and I always will.”
A Notable Absence
Junior college signee Jaiden McCoy started in the season opener against ETSU on Tuesday, but she missed Thursday night’s game due to injury. According to Harper, McCoy will miss time with a left hand injury, and though they don’t know how long just yet, they may know more next week. McCoy sat on the bench with a cast on her left hand.
The Lady Vols now turn their attention to a trip to South Bend, where they’ll face No. 16 Notre Dame on Monday night. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
“One thing that I’m actually happy about now, our first game was a road trip, so this will not be our first road trip,” Harper said. “I think that’s a big deal.
“The environment and atmosphere over in Johnson City was good, it was loud. I fully expect Notre Dame to be an amazing place to play, I expect for it to be loud and tough, but I do think we have a little bit of that under our belt and that’s a positive for us.”