Three Observations: No. 9 Tennessee 68, Texas A&M 54

    by -

    No. 9 Tennessee defeated Texas A&M 68-54 in College Station on Saturday behind a strong performance from sophomore guard Santiago Vescovi.

    Three Vols reached double-figures in the game. Vescovi led the way with a game-high 23 points, while John Fulkerson scored 11 and Jaden Springer chipped in 10, respectively. Tennessee shot 59% as a team while holding Texas A&M to 34% shooting.

    Here’s a look at the three biggest observations from the Vols’ win over the Aggies:

    Vescovi leads the way

    Tennessee’s sophomore guard set the tone early and often. Four of UT’s six first made baskets were by Vescovi, and they were all three-pointers. He scored 12 points in the first half on 4-of-6 shooting and 4-of-5 from three. It led to a 37-30 halftime lead for the Vols.

    “Santi was terrific,” Vols head coach Rick Barnes said after the game. “He’s a smart player, crafty, anything you want to put on it. He’s competitive. He’s a very deceptive defender. I know for a fact his teammates love what he’s about.”

    Vescovi finished with a career-high 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and 6-of-10 shooting from the 3-point line. He added five rebounds, three assists and two steals. His plus/minus of +17 was the best on the team as he played 35 minutes.

    “Today I was not feeling that good in terms of rhythm on my shot,” Vescovi said. “I really do not know what happened today. I was shooting in (warmups) and couldn’t make shots, but I got in the game and they started falling so I just started taking opportunities.”

    Springer starts

    A game after fellow freshman guard Keon Johnson made his first career start against Arkansas, Springer replaced Johnson in the starting lineup against the Aggies and made his first career start.

    “Jaden Springer, I thought, played his best game,” Barnes said. “I thought he was really solid defensively and he’s going to learn so much as he continues to go… Jaden handled himself really well today. He’s a really gifted player, certainly offensively. I think he’s deceptive in what he does. He made a great pass. We ran a little set to get he and Fulky (John Fulkerson) down there in a two-man game. He made a great pass to Fulky. Fulky missed the dunk but that was a great pass. That’s talent – seeing it and making the play.”

    “These next couple of weeks are going to be huge for him, Keon (Johnson) and the other guys that we get out there. These minutes are really valuable.”

    Springer clearly didn’t disappoint. He finished with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting to go along with six rebounds and an assist in 30 minutes of action.

    “I feel like we treated today like any other game,” Springer said. “We watched film, we saw how they played defense, we went over the reads and everything. So, when we came out I feel like we were really prepared for what they were doing. They like to help a lot, so we just had to keep moving the ball, find our teammates and that’s really what we stuck to today.”

    Vols match A&M’s physicality

    Texas A&M bullied Tennessee in Knoxville last season. The Aggies abused the Vols on the glass to go on to secure a significant victory in year one of the Buzz Williams tenure.

    On Saturday in College Station, it was the Vols who bullied the Aggies. Tennessee held A&M to 34% shooting, 35% from three and forced 15 turnovers that led to 18 points. In the paint, UT dominated, out-scoring A&M 28-12. The Aggies did secure 14 offensive rebounds, but the Vols won the defensive rebounding battle 20-17.

    “We went back and looked at that game and it was a really hard game to watch,” Barnes said. “We weren’t very tough. They came in and beat us any and every way that you could beat somebody. We talked about it, that’s what they do. That is part of their identity, their makeup is that they’re going to make you work on the boards. We talked a lot about it. We knew we had to rebound the ball. We want to win the rebounding battle but I thought our guys held their own against a team that is as good as anybody we will play against.”

    Up Next

    Tennessee now turns its attention to Vanderbilt. The Vols will travel to Nashville on Tuesday night for the first of two matchups next week. Vanderbilt will come to Knoxville on Saturday.

    UT was originally scheduled to play in Colombia on Tuesday night against South Carolina, but because of COVID issues within the Gamecocks’ program, the game could not take place. The Commodores were originally scheduled to play Missouri, but the Tigers are also dealing with COVID.

    Tennessee and Vanderbilt will tip at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday.