No. 8 Tennessee won its sixth-straight game to begin the 2020 season on Wednesday night inside of Thompson-Boling Arena with a 80-60 win over USC Upstate.
The Vols shot 54% from the field in their third-highest scoring outing of the season. They were led in scoring by Victor Bailey Jr. who finished with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 2-of-4 shooting from three. Three Vols finished in double-figures, while three others finished with nine points apiece.
Tennessee won despite an unpleasant first half of basketball. The Vols led for 17:57 of 20 minutes in the opening frame, but it was far from 17 minutes of smooth ball on either end of the floor.
UT hovered around a 10-point lead for the majority of the half. It didn’t lead by more than 10, however, as it consistently shot itself in the foot. The Vols turned it over six times that led to seven points off turnovers for USC Upstate. They also shot 2-of-10 from the 3-point line with most of the misses coming off of wide open shots.
Tennessee’s defense allowed itself to maintain the lead throughout the first half. It held the Spartans to 39% shooting from the field and forced six turnovers that led to seven points. The Vols dominated the glass as well, out-rebounding USC Upstate 22-11 courtesy of eight offensive rebounds.
The second half went a touch smoother in the second half. Tennessee out-scored USC Upstate 47-34 over the final frame courtesy of 76.2% shooting. The Vols continued to hover around a 10-point lead for much of the second half.
Yves Pons sparked the team in the second half after a sluggish start. Pons had a ferocious dunk on one end of the floor and then blocked a shot on the defensive end that led to a loose ball. Santiago Vescovi dove on the floor for the loose ball and when he didn’t come up with it, E.J. Anosike dove on the floor for it. Josiah-Jordan James took a stab at trying to grab the ball after Anosike’s attempt and though he didn’t come up with it, the effort raised the level of energy.
Vescovi hit back-to-back 3’s following the sequence on the floor. It pushed the lead to 15 with 13:48 to go in the second half.
Though it felt like Tennessee was going to finally pull away after Vescovi’s pair of three’s, USC Upstate hung around. It did so by making it rain from the three-point line. The Spartans hit five of their first six 3-point attempts in the second half to shoot 5-of-8 from distance for the frame.
Spartans’ sophomore guard Tommy Bruner was the main thorn in the side of Tennessee. Bruner was 4-of-6 from the 3-point line for a team-high 18 points. He also had six assists and a steal.
Tennessee will be back in action a week from today when it opens up conference play against Missouri in Columbia.