3 Observations: Tennessee 69, Missouri 59

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    It was a back-and-forth contest for much of the night. That is, until Tennessee finally played well on both ends of the court and were able to pull away late.

    The Vols (9-5, 1-1 SEC) picked up their first SEC win of the season, taking down Missouri (8-6, 0-2) on the road by a score of 69-59. The Tigers and Vols exchanged the lead 10 times, and the game was tied nine other times.

    But in the end, UT ended up winning by 10 points because of a late offensive surge and stout defense.

    Tennessee closed the game on a 19-6 run after two free throws extended Missouri’s lead to 53-50 with 6:41 to go in the game. Josiah-Jordan James nailed a three to tie it up, then Santiago Vescovi got going and scored eight-straight points. After Missouri retaliated to pull within five, Jordan Bowden drained a three-pointer to give the Vols an eight-point lead with 2:26 to go.

    From that point, Tennessee was able to salt away the game on free throws, coming away with a 10-point victory thanks to a burst on offense and solid defensive play.

    Jordan Bowden broke out of his scoring slump, leading the team with 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Jalen Johnson scored a career-high 11 points, and Santiago Vescovi (12), Josiah-Jordan James (11), Yves Pons (11), and John Fulkerson (11) all scored in double figures as well. James pulled down a game-high seven rebounds, and he led the team in assists as well with four.

    Here are our three biggest takeaways from the Vols’ road victory over former head coach Cuonzo Martin and his Missouri Tigers.

    Santiago Spark Plug

    For the first 34-plus minutes of the game, Santiago Vescovi didn’t score. But in the final five-plus minutes of the game, the Vols’ newest player helped spark Tennessee’s offense.

    Vescovi took a total of one shot in the first 34 minutes of the game on Tuesday night, but with 5:20 to go, he nailed a three-pointer to give the Vols a 56-53 lead. On the Vols’ next offensive possession, he again drained a triple to make it 59-53. Seconds later, Vescovi came up with a steal on an in-bounds play and drove down the court for a layup.

    Just like that, the Vols were up by eight points, and all eight had been scored by Vescovi.

    The Uruguayan point guard scored all 12 of his points in the second half, and all 12 came in the final few minutes of the game, helping the Vols pull away from the Tigers. Vescovi rode the bench for a large part of the first half as he struggled to take care of the ball and make good decisions, but he took that benching to heart and played much better in the second half.

    The freshman finished with 12 points on 3-of-4 shooting and made four of his five free throws. He added four rebounds and two assists while turning the ball over five times in 19 minutes.

    Vols Survive Turnover Problems

    Vescovi struggled with turnovers once again, but he wasn’t the only Vol who gave the ball away a ton against Missouri.

    Tennessee totaled 21 turnovers, tying their season-high as a team. The Vols gave the ball away 21 times in a 60-57 loss to Florida State back in late November.

    This time, the Vols were able to win. But Thursday night’s sloppiness has been a disturbing trend for the Vols basically this whole season.

    Tuesday night’s game marked the fifth time in 14 games that the Vols have totaled 15 or more turnovers as a team. Last season, Tennessee had 15 or more turnovers in just seven of their 37 total games.

    Both Vescovi and John Fulkerson had five turnovers apiece, while Josiah-Jordan James had four and Yves Pons had three. Olivier Nkamhoua totaled two in just seven minutes of action, as he rode the bench for most of the game.

    Missouri turned the ball over just 13 times, including only four times in the second half. They outscored the Vols 24-13 in points off turnovers. But Tennessee survived that discrepancy in turnovers because…

    Defense Comes Up Big

    The Vols’ defense showed up and showed out in Columbia. Tennessee time and time again contested Missouri’s shots and forced them into bad looks. Because of that defense, the Vols were able to overcome their mistakes on the offensive end, and it actually translated to some good opportunities on offense as well.

    Tennessee held Missouri to 35.2 percent shooting overall, and the Vols blocked eight shots and came away with six steals. UT out-rebounded the Tigers 33-29 and dominated the defensive boards, picking up 28 compared to Missouri’s 18.

    Only two Missouri players scored in double figures, and they were Mitchell Smith (10) and Tray Jackson (11). Mizzou was just 9-of-25 from three. The Vols, meanwhile, shot 53.5 percent as a team and 45.8 percent from three. Tennessee just didn’t have a ton of opportunities, only getting off 43 field goal attempts compared to 54 by Missouri.

    Tuesday night marks the seventh time in 14 games this season that the Vols have held an opponent to 60 or fewer points. Tennessee is 5-2 in such games.