Vols head coach Rick Barnes met with the media following No. 6 Tennessee’s 75-49 loss to Florida to discuss where it all went wrong for his basketball team.
Barnes discussed the frustration of Tuesday night’s performance, potentially changing Tennessee’s starting lineup, Davonte Gaines being the only bright spot, why rebounding is an issue, needing to develop leadership, the health status of Jaden Springer and the recent developments with Jeremy Pruitt and Phillip Fulmer.
Here’s everything Barnes, who was not a happy camper, had to say:
On where the game began to get away from Tennessee:
“With the guys that started the game. The very first play of the game, scouting report, they were going out of bounds underneath. Going to throw the ball in, post John Fulkerson up. They were disorganized. The referee laid the ball down. We’ve already picked up a water bottle from underneath the basket. They go there, then he goes down. Early in the game, shot-clock violation, where everybody has to know that. Obviously we’re yelling from the bench. We always call it with five seconds. But there’s not one guy that started the game that was productive. Then we go to the bench, not great production there either, obviously.But we got exactly what we deserved.
“We knew they were going to come out with a lot of emotion. We knew they were going to play hard, they were going to drive the ball hard. We knew they were going to put us in spread pick-and-roll a lot. We knew that. But the rebounding, to start the game, that’s where John (Fulkerson) and Yves (Pons), Josiah (Jordan James), those guys again, (Florida) just crushed us on the boards. I mean, 11 (offensive) rebounds early in the game that they made something out of. Then offensively we missed some shots. Still, we just weren’t very good. Just really disappointed.
“I can tell you this, I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I will change our lineup. It will be changed, because I’m not going to let anybody take anything for granted, thinking hey we’re just going to walk out there and play and show up and think we’re good enough. That’s what I felt tonight. I don’t want to take anything away from Florida and Mike White because they’ve had a hard year with a lot of different things that have gone on. They deserved to win the game from the start to the finish. But I’m not going to watch us do this. I felt like we had too many guys that felt like, OK, I’ve got to play.
“I was proud of Ticket (Davonte Gaines). I mean, I think he ended up being our leading rebounder. I thought those guys at the end tried to do some things. Just disappointing when you have guys that you expect to do some things and it doesn’t happen. From the get-go, that’s the most disappointing thing.”
On if Vols freshman guard Jaden Springer is the most important player on Tennessee’s team:
“He’s important. He’s important defensively as much as anything. Keon (Johnson) got lit up tonight defensively because he doesn’t understand ball-screen defense. When we really had a chance to get momentum, we were switching and for some reason he just ran out from underneath the basket and left the guy he had switched on, let the big fella dunk the ball. Our guards turned it over way too much. Santi (Vescovi) got popped pretty good in his hip. We left it up to him whether or not he wanted to play, and he wanted to. We could tell without him, the little bit he was there, you saw what happened when he wasn’t out there. And Jaden not out there. We just threw the ball, turned the ball over in ways that you can’t imagine, to be quite honest, at this level. Supposedly guys that understand how to play basketball.”
On why Springer didn’t play:
“He hasn’t practiced since the last game (against Vanderbilt on Saturday). And during shoot around and stuff yesterday he couldn’t go. He was just gimping around (with a left ankle injury).”
On what he saw from Tennessee in the paint:
“I didn’t see anything good tonight. Davonte Gaines, I’m proud of him, what you saw him do tonight. And it’s my fault, probably, that too many guys get comfortable. I didn’t see anything good at all, to be quite honest with you.”
On if he was surprised by the fact his team didn’t fight back after going down early:
“Yeah, that’s exactly what we talked about. There gets to be a point, you have to get leadership from your seniors. Fulky and Yves can’t hide behind anybody. They can’t. There are a lot of teams that we beat up on with that last group a couple years ago. But now those guys are the ones that, when you’re in a situation like that, those young guys are waiting on those guys (the seniors) to lead them, because they’ve played more games. And they haven’t done it. All we’ve asked Yves to do, to simplify for him, is to play defense and rebound. He hasn’t done that. At some point in time we have to make some shots, too, obviously. We just didn’t get the leadership. We don’t have the leadership, obviously. And we have to get it.
“But again, I could tell you this, it makes me sick to watch a group of guys not play hard. As a coach, it’s probably the hardest thing to stomach as a coach, when you know the other team is playing harder in every facet of the game, beating you every which way, and you don’t respond. That’s how I felt tonight anyway. And that’s the most disappointing part in the game.”
On not matching Florida’s intensity:
“You know what? I felt like, watching the game, from the beginning I wasn’t happy. From the beginning. I think I took Fulky out early because the guys were looking at him. He’s a guy that we’re looking at him. And I’m not putting it on him, because it’s not. But he’s an important cog to this wheel. But the fact of the matter is, we kept acting like OK, we’re going to get this going, we’re going to get this going. But it’s the way our guards, I mean, our guard play was horrendous. You think about it, the turnovers, the missed shots.
“What bothered me at halftime, I kept telling them early in the game, Fulky and Yves, they do need to touch the ball. But it’s up to them to get involved. And they were allowing themselves to get pushed around. The scouting report is easy right now on John Fulkerson. Push him off the lane, go double him. And all we’ve asked him to do is not stand there and do that. Get moving, get active. We can roll him in there, we can run him in there. But he’s got to do it. Yves, again, right now he’s just not doing the things that we need him to do.
“Like we told the team, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know what we’re going to do. But I can assure you, we are going to change the lineup because of what you just said. That’s what disappoints me the most. That those guys didn’t find a way to at least scratch it out and make some changes. They came out of the timeouts, they said all of the right things, but their actions didn’t follow it up.”
On the pressure Florida generated in the backcourt:
“You think about it, we start the game with three guys that have played the point at some time in their career. We told them exactly what they were going to do. Do not put all the pressure on Santi. You guys get down the court, get it and go with it. I said it for three, four days. Whatever it is. And the wings kept running off. They keep putting all the pressure on Santi. Believe me, they did exactly what we talked about and what we worked on. But when Santi was getting double-teamed, those other wings to start with were nowhere to be found. That’s really disappointing. That tells you that you’re not locked in. That tells you that you’re just going through the motions. And believe me, we proved tonight that we’re not good enough to go through the motions.”
On Tennessee’s offensive issues:
“We didn’t run any offense. We got down the floor, we didn’t get where we were supposed to be. We didn’t flow. That goes back to point guard play. They’re going after Santi. Santi is great off the ball. But those other two guys have to take charge at that time. We don’t want to fight to give Santi the ball to get our offense started. We don’t have to do that. We work too much the other way. But when the lights go on, we have a couple guys that refuse to do what they need to do. That’s very frustrating to be quite honest with you. You’re playing with three guys that have played (point guard) and you’re coming off the bench with a fourth guy that played the point. And they’re like OK, leave it to him (Vescovi) to do all this. It’s not fair to him.”
On why there are issues with rebounding and why Florida dominated in the paint:
“I think it’s a lack of taking the challenge, is what I think. You knew they were going to come out and play aggressive. I mean, Mike’s teams do that. They’re going to do that. But our front line, I mean, Yves Pons can’t end the game with three rebounds. He can’t. His sole thing is to play defense and rebound. I think Fulky, I didn’t even look at it. How many rebounds did he have? (Four). How many did Davonte Gaines have? (Five). Who was the other guy that had five? (Josiah-Jordan James). How many did EJ (Anosike) have? (Three). How many did Uros (Plavsic) have? Olivier (Nkamhoua)? (One and three). Again, so think about it, those guys played less minutes and had more rebounds, or as many rebounds, as Yves Pons. And Fulky only had how many? Four. So that right there tells you a lot.”
On the situation with the football program and Phillip Fulmer retiring:
“Well, obviously, I really feel for our football staff because there’s a lot of really nice people there that obviously it very tough on families — not just one family, but many families.
“I think it is quite obvious that when you look at what transpired during the press conference, I have unbelievable respect for Phillip Fulmer. He is a Tennessee legend. I met him my first year here. We do a Bible study that we share. There is not a person that I have ever come in contact with that loves this university more than him. He wanted to come in and, I will tell you, he did a job I think he was asked to do. He was asked to calm things, to bring warmth to the athletic department and get people re-engaged. I think what he did with the entire athletic department, he has done that.
“I will tell you this, since I have been here, I think this is going to be our fourth AD. I have a great relationship with all the ADs that were here. I have great admiration for them. Sometimes, you go through these periods. So much can happen. It’s hard to get it back. The leadership at this university is, I think, the best. Having a chance to have Donde (Plowman) and Randy (Boyd), to hear them sit there and talk like that, there are so many people that would love to have a chance to be part of this great university. I am just blessed that I am. Going forward, there is no doubt it is going to get better. There are going to be great days ahead for us because of that. There’s too many people at this university that love it too much not to think that — and I am disappointed tonight, I really am. It hurts when you play as badly as we play tonight.
“I can just tell you this, the most important thing and I have said it from the time that I took this job, and I think that what they said yesterday is there is nothing more important than the integrity of this university. Nothing. It is one of the great universities in the country and it is going to get better. When you think of all those people that have come, not just athletes but students in general. We have so much to be proud of. I think that is what came from yesterday in terms of going forward, we are led by people that expect excellence in everything we do. The word integrity was thrown around and I do think integrity and truth are the most important things that we can do in our jobs and position. I am thankful for the leadership they have brought to us. I am going to miss coach. We are friends and that has been one of the great blessings coming here. He is a true Tennessee legend. I do want people to know that he worked really hard to try to get things calmed down and back in place. I do think he has done that as an athletic department.”