Things looked interesting in the first half in Knoxville, as an upset seemed to be brewing. But then the Vols blew the game open in the second half.
Murray State led by as much as 12 in the first half and held a 44-35 advantage at halftime over Tennessee. The Racers led for all but a handful of minutes in the first half of play, and they would push their lead back to double-digits in the first two minutes of the second half.
But Tennessee had had enough.
Thanks to Jordan Bowden’s career performance, the Vols ended up racing past the Racers, dropping 47 points on Murray State in the second half while holding them to just 19 points to win 82-63. The Vols (2-0) clamped down defensively and found a rhythm on offense by flowing through both Bowden and Yves Pons. Murray State (1-1), meanwhile, couldn’t get anything going in the second half after draining shots with ease in the first half.
Here are our five biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s comeback victory over the Racers.
The Jordan Bowden Show
In the first half, Jordan Bowden sat on the bench for well over half of the opening 20 minutes of the game because he picked up two quick fouls. But the second half was all about Tennessee’s sharpshooter.
Bowden exploded for 19 points in the second half and set a new career-high in the process, totaling 26 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 6-of-8 from three. Time and time again, Bowden nailed a big three to either pull Tennessee closer to erase Murray State’s lead or give the Vols more cushion in the second half.
Before Tuesday night’s game, Bowden’s career-high in scoring was 21 points. He had only eclipsed the 20-point mark four times in his previous 102 career games at Tennessee. But on Tuesday, he was lights-out, and he was a huge reason the Vols came alive in the second half and beat the Racers.
Bowden played with confidence and poise, more than he’s shown in most of his career at Tennessee. He looked like the aggressive and confident player head coach Rick Barnes has been wanting to see the last three years.
Second Half Surge
The first half was all about Murray State. The Racers seemingly couldn’t miss, and they took advantage of both Jordan Bowden and John Fulkerson sitting due to foul trouble.
But the second half was all about Tennessee.
The Vols blew up on the offensive end and were just as dominant on defense against the Racers. Tennessee trailed 44-35 at halftime, but they were a completely different team in the second half. The Vols scored 47 points of their own in the second half, and they held Murray State to a paltry 19 points. Tennessee ended the game on an 18-2 run, and Murray State didn’t score a single point over the last 7:21 of game time.
After making eight of their 14 three-pointers in the first half, Murray State only made one of their nine attempts from three in the second half. Tennessee, meanwhile, was 5-of-8 from three in the second half of play.
There wasn’t an area in the second half that Tennessee didn’t dominate. They outscored, out-rebounded, out-assisted, and out-shot Murray State. The Vols forced more turnovers than the Racers in the second half, got more blocks, and scored more points in the paint.
The Vols seemed disjointed and out of sorts in the first half. In the second half, they played like a team.
Not only did Jordan Bowden score a career-high 26 points in Tuesday’s win, but a few other Vols also posted career-highs.
Yves Pons was the most efficient player on UT’s roster against Murray State, and after he posted a career-high 15 points in Tennessee’s season opener, he set another career-high on Tuesday. Pons totaled 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting and made his first six shots of the game. The Flying Frenchman was 3-of-4 from three and also brought down four rebounds and blocked a team-high four shots.
Lamonte Turner was cold from the field, totaling just five points on 2-of-12 shooting, including 0-of-3 from three. But he made up for his poor shooting in other areas, most notably as a point guard.
Turner dished out a career-high 14 assists on Tuesday night and didn’t turn the ball over once. Before Tuesday’s game, Turner had never totaled more than nine assists in a game. His 14 assists are tied for the sixth-most in a single game in school history, and they’re the most assists by a player in a game since LaMarcus Golden also dished out 14 assists against South Carolina back on January 19, 1994.
Freshmen Olivier Nkamhoua and Josiah-Jordan James also posted career-highs on Tuesday. Nkamhoua scored eight points, eclipsing his seven-point performance in the season opener. James scored five points, beating his two points in the season opener. Nkamhoua also brought down seven rebounds, and James grabbed two rebounds and had an assist.
Home Winning Streak Stays Intact
Tennessee entered Tuesday’s game with the longest active home winning streak in men’s basketball. It looked like that streak was in jeopardy in the first half, but the Vols were able to keep it intact thanks to their extraordinary second half.
With the win over Murray State, the Vols have now won 28-straight games in Thompson-Boling Arena. Not only is that currently the longest active winning streak in college hoops, but it’s the third-longest home winning streak in program history.
The Vols will have a chance to extend that winning streak on November 20th when they host Alabama State.
Tough Test Up Next
Tennessee’s first game of the season against UNC Asheville provided a good first test for the new-look Vols, and their second game against Murray State was an even tougher contest. But the Vols’ next game will easily be their most difficult game so far.
The Vols’ next contest is up in Toronto on Saturday, November 16th. Tennessee will play No. 20 Washington, who upset No. 16 Baylor 67-64 to start the season then defeated Mount Saint Mary’s 56-46 on Tuesday.
Washington features a high-scoring junior guard and a pair of dangerous freshmen. Nahziah Carter is averaging 23 points so far this season, and freshmen Jaden McDaniels (18.0 PPG) and Isaiah Stewart (15.0 PPG) have also been highly productive.
Saturday’s game will mark the first time this season Tennessee will face a ranked opponent. The Vols currently have eight more games on their schedule against ranked opponents after their contest with Washington.