Vols head basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the media on Saturday night to discuss his team’s second loss in a row, a 73-64 loss to No. 19 Missouri.
Barnes discussed why the offense is struggling right now, the health of Santiago Vescovi and John Fulkerson, the timetable for Jaden Springer’s injury, how concerned he is with the defense, how he would assess the help defense and meeting new Tennessee athletic director Danny White.
Here’s everything Barnes had to say following the loss:
On why the offense is currently struggling:
“You go back the last two games, we’ve turned the ball over, what, 36 times. You can’t do that. You really can’t do it at home. But I think you have to give your opponent some credit for that. I think when people are pressuring you that hard, you have to be able to drive the ball to get them off of you. We don’t have enough guys right now that are willing to go make that play. I think we’ve got guys with the ability to do it, but they’re going to have to go and not predetermine, when they’re driving the ball, what they’re going to do. They have to go until they’re stopped. And Missouri does a good job of getting into the gaps. Maybe not full body all the time, but they do a good job with their gap strips. We’ve just got to get everybody confident.
“Tonight I thought Yves (Pons) played with more confidence on the offensive end. We told Josiah (Jordan James) and (Yves) if they didn’t shoot the ball, we were taking them out, because we can’t play with three guys or two guys that aren’t looking (to score). It’s putting all the pressure on other guys to do some things. Obviously the scouting report on John Fulkerson is to be physical. Try to be very physical with him, try to stand him up. He had some looks at it tonight. He had five turnovers. I think they were all in the first half. That was tough. Then the free throws to start the game.
“To create confidence, you don’t want to just keep digging yourself out of a hole. Two games in a row we’ve done that. I don’t think there is any question the scouting report is going to be pressure these guys, see if they’re willing to put it on the floor, see what they’re going to do with it. And even with that said, you look at the game tonight, the free throws hurt too. When you’re behind you cannot turn it over, you can’t turn it over at all. Then you can’t give up second shots at any point in time. Then there at the end of the game, they’re trying to manage the clock and we’re trying to create some chaos a little bit there and get some things going. We still had some chances but we couldn’t finish it. We had some good looks at it. We gave up a big offensive rebound, that one hurt. As hard as we fought to grind back in it. We just have to get everyone back healthy and strong. And we’ll be alright.”
On the performance of sophomore guard Santiago Vescovi:
“Honestly, he’s not 100 percent. He’s not. I watched him in shoot-around today and I could tell he was going. But he’s such a tough, competitive guy. He said coach, I want to try it. He’s struggling a little bit there, but he’ll be back. I’m not worrying about it. I’m really not. I’m just impressed with the fact that he said I want to play. He said I’ve got to help my teammates. He’s not as quick as he normally is but he’ll be fine, because he’ll do all the things with our medical people to get right.”
On the injury that Vescovi is dealing with:
“He got hurt in the Florida game early. It’s a hip. He got hit in the hip area. It’s painful, obviously, when he tries to slide, do this or do that. He has not practiced since the Florida game. He came out today and it was the first time he’s been able (to practice), he did go through our shoot-around. He understood what was going on. It’s hard not to practice (and then play). We all admire him for just trying to play.”
On when freshman guard Jaden Springer (left ankle) could return from injury:
“There’s no doubt he helps you in games like this. Timeline, it’s on his timeline. He’s got to be the guy that knows when he’s ready to go, when he feels like he can give everything he’s got. There’s no doubt where we felt we would get better with he and Keon (Johnson) on the perimeter in games like this, where they can do some of that. Jaden is missing it. Keon is still finding, both of them, they’re still learning while they’re on the job here. Wit h that said, again, it’s on his time.”
On how concerned he is with the defense:
“I’m not as concerned with our defense as I am with our offense, because those two are married together. If we run good offense, we’ll be better on the defensive end. There’s no doubt about it. We’re putting all the pressure on our defense. We did a nice job on Jeremiah Tilmon tonight. But the fact is, (Xavier) Pinson controlled the game. He was terrific. And they’re playing really well. I don’t want to take anything away from (Missouri), I think Cuonzo (Martin) does a terrific job. We’ve had back-to-back games against two teams we had beaten I think four times in a row. This is one of the older teams in the league and I think they came out tonight like, you know, we’re going to go at it. I said it in the pregame, I said Jeremiah Tilmon had one of the great lines I’ve heard from an older guy. They had lost a game and they asked him about, will you learn something, and he said we’re too old. We don’t need to lose a game to learn something. And I thought they played like a veteran team. I think they knew exactly what they wanted to do and Cuonzo made really nice adjustments. He saw what his team was doing well and he kept feeding it.”
On if Tennessee is still learning how to win:
“I do think that we’ve been pretty good with it. I think we got them to shoot a tough shot, but we gave up a rebound at a time and then we ran a good out-of-bounds play and got Yves a wide-open look and he missed it, but we got it back out and VJ hit it. We actually executed some things in special situations that we haven’t had to use up until this point. Definitely, there is some learning going on, and I don’t think it’s just the younger guys. I think John Fulkerson and Yves Pons, again, are getting game planed heavily. If Yves will continue to down this way, and Josiah will get consistent with that. We need everybody. I think Ticket came in and gave us some energy. At times, we need to get scoring on the floor, and I think Keon will continue to learn that if he goes in there and starts pinning back that people are going to attack and go get the ball. The fact is, I do think there is still some learning going on in terms of when you’re behind, but tonight I didn’t think there was any panic. I thought the other night at Florida we were just terrible. We had glazed-over eyes like, ‘What happened?’ and it was from the beginning. I was surprised we turned the ball over the way we did because we knew they were going to come in and be aggressive. All you had to do is watch the film to know they would do that. I’m just surprised the way we turned it over in the first half, knowing that they were going to do.”
On how physical teams are being with John Fulkerson:
“I’ll tell you this: He should have gotten the ball a few more times tonight. He was open when we had a little cross-screen action there, and that’s where the guards have to deliver the ball to him. I thought he worked hard a few times to really get the ball, and our guards don’t understand yet, even in a game where people are pressing up and doing that, yeah, do we need to get by them and drive, we do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t throw the ball inside. We should really be able to do it more because there is more space when people are playing 35 feet from the basket, but it is a matter of being poised with the ball. With Fulky, we’re trying to move him around as much as we can to get him in space because he’s a good player who knows how to pass and knows how to play. He’s missed a few shots that a year ago he was making — all those little shots around the rim. I have to believe that he’ll get it back before we’re done, and we need him to obviously. He is having to learn to make some adjustments himself.”
On the difference of this team from the last time the two teams played earlier this month:
“When you think about it, we came out the exact opposite up there. I think we opened up the game with seven straight field goals, driving the ball. Jaden was very effective in that game. Keon, you go back, they both drove the ball well and got in there and made some plays. Tonight, as time goes on, people will adjust, and they won’t just adjust with what you’re doing, they’ll adjust personnel. As time goes on, people see what guys do. It will change a little bit now that he banged some of those 3s, but they were just backing off Keon and letting him shoot all he wants trying to take away his drive.
“Santi, pressure, try to get him going to his right. Once he puts it on the floor, get into the gap and make it hard for him to pass out of it. Josiah, space him. I go back to the turnovers. I’m surprised about the turnovers, that’s all I can tell you. I’m shocked by it because we normally handle the ball, but the past two games have been pathetic taking care of the ball. If you turn the ball over 36 times in two games, it puts so much pressure on you. We normally don’t do that. We’re normally very, very good. I can sit down and break it down to maybe players’ confidence right now they’re being a little bit hesitant, and if that’s the case, we have to get out of that. You have to have everyone involved, not just one guy, but everybody has to be synced in and lined up, and then it will flow better.”
On what he didn’t like about freshman guard Keon Johnson’s turnover in the second half:
“The decision. That has to be 100% of the time. They were back. Because it was up in the air as long as it was by the time it gets there, it is like a bunch of bees getting on the honey. That has to be a quick, earlier pass. He has done that twice now. He did it the last game when we were done. That would be like a quarterback that coaches talk about. They just feel like they can thread the needle and they keep trying to at the wrong time. It just wasn’t a good decision. If it was a good decision, it would have been caught. Now, the last game, it was Fulky putting his hand up for it and then didn’t turn his head to look for it. But tonight, you just cannot turn the ball over when you’re down. You can’t. I like the fact he is looking. That has to be a 100% accurate play or you can’t do it.”
On how he would assess Tennessee’s help defense:
“Well, they drive the ball hard. We wanted to get — they shot the ball well. They really shot the ball well. We let down a couple times and gave a couple of their shooters. Pinson was terrific. He made some great rim shots. He made some great layups. I love guys that are big-time layup makers. I think that is an art. I think that is a talent. He got in there and he is very slippery and quick. He got confident and felt like he could go wherever he wanted to go when he could do it. When guys are playing in straight lines like that, it is really hard to help. Plus, they were kicking out and with confidence shooting the ball, taking shots. They get you in a rotation, shot goes up and you are not quite in the same position you want to be to rebound the ball. I will go back. If we are better on offense, where we can keep more pressure on them on offense, it makes all of that a little bit tougher. If you give a team a lead and they sense you are struggling on the other end and don’t think you can score against them, it gives them so much more confidence on the offensive end. They feel they can go down, get a stop and do it again. The two have to be married. They have to be. The last two games, our offense has not been very good.”
On his first impression of Danny White:
“Obviously I know about the White family and the pedigree there from his dad and coaching against Mike [White] and knowing that most of the family is in athletics some way. I got a text from Chancellor Plowman that said she’d like to talk to me real quick, and from the time I picked up the phone her voice was so excited. She said, ‘I’m telling you we’ve got a great athletic director.’ They went quicker than they thought, but I think that obviously Danny [White] did a great job on the Zoom interview and when they met him, to put it quite simple, I think he blew them away. I don’t think there’s any question that he’s got a lot of confidence, and he should have because he’s done some great things. He did meet with the head coaches, and the fact is has already reached out to student-athletes. He wants their input. From the beginning, he was asking questions. He said there’s a lot of great things that have gone on here. He wants to take that Power T and make it the best in the country. There is no doubt great days are ahead. I’ve been around a long time now and I’ve seen a lot of people, and there is no doubt in my mind that he’s a great hire and he’s going to do great things for this university.”