Tennessee played two talented teams in the Emerald Coast Classic over Thanksgiving weekend, and the Vols have a high profile match-up with Memphis on the horizon. Wednesday night’s game against Florida A&M served as a break from the difficult contests for a night.
The Rattlers entered Wednesday’s match-up with the No. 21 Vols with an 0-6 record, and Tennessee gave them their seventh-straight loss to start the season with a 72-43 victory in Knoxville.
Five different Vols scored in double figures on Wednesday night. Tennessee was led by John Fulkerson’s 15 points in 26 minutes. Yves Pons had 14 points and seven rebounds, Olivier Nkamhoua had 11 points and 13 rebounds, and both Lamonte Turner and Josiah-Jordan James had 10 points.
Florida A&M only had one player score in double-digits, and that was center Evins Desir, who totaled 11 points and seven rebounds.
The victory gave the Vols their 31st-straight win in Thompson-Boling Arena, and it improved Tennessee’s 2019-20 record to 7-1.
Up next for Tennessee is the highly-anticipated in-state rivalry game against the Memphis Tigers in Thompson-Boling Arena on December 14th.
Here are our three biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s 29-point victory over Florida A&M.
Dominant Down Low
Tennessee tried to get some shots to fall from distance, but that was more of a luxury on Wednesday night because the Vols had their way with Florida A&M in the paint.
The Vols were just 3-of-16 from three-point line on Wednesday, but they almost had more points down low in the post than the Rattlers had as a team. Tennessee scored 40 points in the paint as a team while Florida A&M had 43 total points and only 22 in the paint. Not only did Tennessee massively out-score Florida A&M in the paint, but UT also out-rebounded the Rattlers by a wide margin, winning the battle on the glass 43-25.
John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, and Olivier Nkamhoua were all major factors in the paint for the Vols on Wednesday night. Those three combined for 40 of Tennessee’s 72 points, and they pulled down a combined 25 rebounds, the same amount as Florida A&M’s entire team.
Force-Feeding the Freshmen
Head coach Rick Barnes made it a point to give Tennessee’s youngest players more playing time against Florida A&M.
Josiah-Jordan James already starts and plays a lot of minutes, but he sat for most of the first half after picking up two quick fouls. The former five-star flourished in the second half, though, and he finished with a career-high 10 points in 27 minutes. Tennessee’s other freshmen played more than they usually do as Barnes tried to get them more action to prepare them for some tougher upcoming competition.
Olivier Nkamhoua, Drew Pember, and Davonte Gaines all played double-digit minutes on Wednesday night, and all three had some productive minutes. Nkamhoua had a career night, totaling his first double-double as a Vol with 11 points and 13 rebounds in 23 minutes. Gaines totaled seven points, four rebounds, and two assists in 20 minutes, and Pember had three rebounds in 15 minutes.
Though he’s not a freshman, junior wing Jalen Johnson also received more playing time. He totaled two points on an alley-oop in 11 minutes of action.
No Vol totaled over 30 minutes of playing time on Wednesday night.
The one consistent theme of Tennessee’s young 2019-20 season has been the Vols’ stout defense. That was the case again on Wednesday.
Tennessee entered Wednesday night’s game only allowing 57.7 points a game, and teams were only shooting 36.6 percent against the Vols in their first seven games. Both of those numbers ranked inside the top 20 in all of Division I college basketball. Against the Rattlers, those numbers held up.
Florida A&M managed a paltry 43 points on Wednesday, the second-fewest Tennessee has allowed all season and the fewest points the Rattlers have scored all year so far. Florida A&M shot just 35.5 percent as a team and turned the ball over 20 times.
Granted, Florida A&M isn’t a good team. They came into Wednesday’s game with an 0-6 record, and they were coming off back-to-back blowout losses to Seton Hall and Kansas State before playing the Vols. But UT’s defense has been great in every game so far this season, and the Rattlers became Tennessee’s latest victim.