Tennessee hit the floor of Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday for the first time in a week for a match-up with the Wisconsin Badgers. In their first game without senior point guard Lamonte Turner, the Vols fell to the Badgers 68-48.
UT struggled on the offensive end throughout the 40 minutes of play. In the first half, Tennessee (8-4) shot 38 percent from the field and was just 3-of-9 from the 3-point line. The second half was much worse, at least to start. The Vols didn’t score until the 13:36 mark on a Davonte Gaines free throw and didn’t make a field goal until John Fulkerson got one to fall at the 12:40 mark.
“Let’s give Wisconsin a lot of credit,” Rick Barnes said following the loss to Badgers. “I thought they were terrific. They could have beat a lot of people today.”
In the second half, Tennessee shot 31.8 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from the 3-point line. Wisconsin (7-5) did cool off of from distance, however, only making four 3-point shots over the final 20 minutes. The Badgers finished the game shooting 42.3 percent from three.
Jalen Johnson and John Fulkerson led Tennessee in scoring with nine points apiece. All of Johnson’s points came in the second half, which set a new career-high. He was 2-for-3 from three for the game.
For Wisconsin, D’Mitrik Trice led the Badgers with 21 points on 4-of-8 shooting from three. Brevin Pritzl chipped in 17 points.
Here are our biggest observations from the Vols’ first game without Turner.
Life without Lamonte Turner
The first game without Turner was not pretty on either end of the floor. According to Barnes, however, Turner’s absence wasn’t the issue on Saturday, as Tennessee shot 34 percent from the floor and 33 percent from three.
“We’ve struggled on offense even with Lamonte (Turner),” Barnes said. “Defensively, we were trying to grind it with them, and they run good offense. Our offense right now, we’re not very good. We’re not making shots.”
Tennessee’s perimeter players combined to shoot 5-of-27 against Wisconsin while the post players combined to shoot 5-of-7. Jordan Bowden was 2-of-13, Davonte Gaines was 2-of-8, and Josiah-Jordan James was 1-of-6.
“I realize we have a bunch of different guys who are older playing different roles, and some of the younger guys are going through this for the first time, it’s new for them, but the fact is we’ve gotta get better guard play,” Barnes said. “In order for our offense to work the way we want it to, we have to get better decisions out of our guards.”
Help is on the way — maybe
Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, and Corey Walker Jr. are the names everyone knows in regards to Tennessee’s signing class, but Santiago Vescovi is the signee that flew under the radar because he signed late. But considering the Vols’ current circumstances, he may become the most important signee — at least in regards to the 2019-20 season.
Barnes and Tennessee announced the signing of Vescovi last Monday. The Uruguay native, who has been playing at the NBA Global Academy, arrived in Knoxville on Saturday morning before Tennessee’s loss to Wisconsin. Vescovi is eligible to play, but Barnes said on Thursday during a media availability that the decision was his to make on whether he will actually see the court
“We have always said it was his option to do that,” Barnes said. “It is up to him.
“I think he is excited. The last time we talked, he took it as if he didn’t have that option to play. We said, ‘No no no, we said from day one it is your option and your call.’ If he comes in and feels like he can do it, I think he will do it.”
Following the 20-point loss to the Badgers, Barnes stated that Vescovi wants to play.
“I don’t think there’s any question he wants to play,” Barnes said on Saturday. “We’ve got a week off here with a lot of things to work through. Not just mentally, but to see how much he can do and how long it will take him.”
Having lost three of its last four games, Tennessee now turns its attention to conference play. The Vols will host LSU (7-4) next Saturday, Jan. 4, for a 12 p.m. ET tip-off in Thompson-Boling Arena.