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3 Observations: No. 17 Tennessee 72, No. 20 VCU 69

Photo by Caitlyn Jordan/RTI

In a back-and-forth game, No. 17 Tennessee found a way to overcome their mistakes, withstand a VCU comeback, and emerge victorious in the most compelling game of the Vols’ 2019-20 season to date.

Tennessee (6-1) had a 13-point lead over VCU (6-2) in the opening seconds of the second half thanks to two Jordan Bowden free throws. That 39-26 lead would slowly evaporate, however, as VCU’s Marcus Santos-Silva almost single-handedly willed the Rams back into contention, and with 6:42 to go, VCU erased that lead and grabbed a 58-56 lead.

From there, the Vols would end up getting the lead back after a John Fulkerson layup with 4:17 to go made it 63-62 Tennessee, but they could never pull ahead by more than three points.

With just over four seconds left on the clock, De’Riante Jenkins nailed a three to pull VCU even with the Vols at 69 points. Tennessee inbounded it, raced across halfcourt, and called a timeout.

On the inbounds play, Lamonte Turner received the ball, turned around, and sank a game-winning three as time expired, propelling the Vols past the Rams in a tightly-contested match-up between a likely NCAA Tournament team.

There were a total of 10 ties and 13 lead changes in Saturday’s game, the consolation game of the Emerald Coast Classic. Tennessee led for nearly 32 minutes of game time compared to VCU’s three-plus minutes, and the game was tied for a total of five minutes.

Three different Vols scored in double figures, and Santos-Silva led the way with 22 points and 11 rebounds for VCU. But his efforts were not enough, as the Vols survived the comeback effort by the Rams to bounce back after Friday night’s loss to Florida State.

Here are our three biggest observations from Tennessee’s thrilling 72-69 win over VCU.

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Late-Game Lamonte

If there’s one thing Lamonte Turner does well, it’s hit clutch shots.

Turner made game-winning buckets for Tennessee multiple times last season, most notably in the SEC Tournament semifinals against Kentucky. He hasn’t had to be called upon in a late-game moment so far this season until Saturday.

And when he was called upon, he delivered.

Saturday wasn’t the greatest day for Turner on the season, but he bounced back for the most part after a rough Friday night. Turner was just 5-of-14 overall from the floor, but he made two of his five three-pointers and dished out seven assists and totaled five rebounds while turning the ball over five times. His second three-pointer proved to be the biggest, as it gave Tennessee the win.

Turner came up big when needed most, and he helped give the Vols a great resume-building victory.

Return of the Fulk

On Friday night against FSU, John Fulkerson was frustrated and basically shut out on offense. Fulkerson fouled out late in the game and totaled just two points and two rebounds in less than 30 minutes of playing time.

Against VCU, Fulkerson was a key piece to Tennessee’s victory.

The redshirt junior forward finished with a team-high 17 points and tied Josiah-Jordan James for the team-lead in rebounds with seven. Fulkerson also had a block and was 7-of-10 from the field, including 3-of-4 from the free throw line.

Florida State dominated the paint against the Vols, out-scoring UT 26-14 down low. Against VCU, Tennessee had the edge in paint points, 30-28. Fulkerson was a big reason why.

Still Sloppy

The late-game dramatics will be what resonates most about this game, but head coach Rick Barnes will undoubtedly be displeased with large portions of Saturday’s game.

Tennessee still struggled with turnovers and long spells of putrid offense much like they did against Florida State. The Vols turned the ball over 13 times compared to just five giveaways by VCU, and UT made just 33.3 percent of their threes. Tennessee managed 12 assists, but UT made 26 buckets as a team, meaning less than half of the Vols’ field goals were assisted on.

Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden were the two worst offenders when it came to turning the ball over. Turner had five while Bowden had three.

All in all, the Vols played better basketball against VCU than they did against Florida State, and they got the victory. But there’s still plenty to clean up moving forward.

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