The last couple of weeks haven’t necessarily been smooth sailing for Tennessee basketball. Wednesday night’s matchup with Georgia was much smoother, however, at least in the first half, as the Vols won its second consecutive game 89-81.
No. 16 Tennessee (14-4, 7-4 SEC) was led by a career-high 30 points on 9-of-11 shooting from freshman guard Jaden Springer. He was one of four Vols to reach double-figures. Santiago Vescovi chipped in 19 points while Josiah-Jordan James dropped in 18, respectively. Two of Keon Johnson’s 11 points came on a spectacular dunk he had in the second half.
Freshman K.D. Johnson led the way for Georgia. Johnson scored 20 points in the second half to finish with a team-high 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field. Toumani Camara added 14 points and Sahvir Wheeler scored 11.
Here’s a look at the three biggest observations from Tennessee’s win over Georgia:
Johnson caught a body
The story of the night didn’t have anything to do with how Tennessee played. Rather, it had everything to do with one particular play that five-star freshman guard Keon Johnson made to make SportsCenter.
With 17:53 remaining in the game, Johnson drove the lane, leaped and hammered down a dunk on top of Georgia’s Toumani Camara. The dunk generated quite the reaction. It quickly made the rounds on social media, generating reactions from NBA stars like Donavon Mitchell and former Vols such as Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson.
“I’ve worked with him a lot on that dunk,” Vols head coach Rick Barnes joked following the game. “I showed him how to take off and wind up with it. The reason you haven’t seen him do that yet is because it’s taken me awhile to get in shape to show him how to do that little helicopter dunk.”
“Keon’s dunk, it was really impressive,” sophomore guard Santiago Vescovi added. “If I have to be honest, it doesn’t surprise me. He’s a freak and he’s super athletic and I think he’s showing what he can do.”
Springer joins elite company
Johnson’s dunk overshadowed the play of Springer. The other five-star guard set a career-high and season-high in points against Kentucky inside of Rupp Arena on Saturday, scoring 23 points to help lead the Vols to a win. Springer topped that performance against Georgia on Wednesday night, scoring a new career-high 30 points.
“He (Springer) is doing a lot of things well,” Barnes said. “He can score at all three levels, and you guys see that. He is learning a lot, and I think he is still learning a lot about his game and things that he can do that he maybe has not been asked to do that we are expecting him to do a lot.
“Defensively, he’s really good night in and night out… We made good decisions, and Jaden will learn now that he has a really big target on him when he starts to play one-on-one and in isolation situations. We would like him to move the ball quicker, and he is going to have to understand that spin will not be there because people are going to get that and try to steal that.”
Springer was 9-of-11 shooting from the field, 3-of-4 from three and 9-of-12 from the free throw line. He also had four rebounds, three steals and two assists. Grant Williams and Chris Lofton are the only other Vols to score 30-points in a game as true freshman since 2005.
“I would say I’m just getting more comfortable,” Springer said. “I also feel like the team as a whole is getting more comfortable. We’re playing with a faster pace and getting up and down the court and it’s paying off for us.”
Senior forward Yves Pons was unavailable to play against the Bulldogs due to a lingering knee injury he suffered against Kansas nearly two weeks ago. Pons played in the two games following the win over Kansas, but hadn’t practiced at all.
The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year was nearly able to give it a go against Georgia. He just didn’t feel comfortable doing so. Barnes is hopeful he’ll be back in Tennessee’s next game on Saturday.
“I do think he will be back,” Barnes said. “The swelling is going down in the knee.
“I have not talked to Chad Newman, but he was trying to play tonight, so another couple days off so he might be ready. I will be surprised if he doesn’t, but I don’t know. When we drove back over tonight he had not made that decision whether he would or he would not. He really tried to play, but he just could not get confident enough to be able to do it.”
Tennessee now turns its attention to LSU (12-6, 7-4 SEC) after moving into a five-way tie for second place in the SEC standings. The Vols will travel to Baton Rouge on Saturday for a 2 p.m. tip on ESPN.
“They (LSU) have the eighth-ranked offense in the county and have guys that can score because they are a very heavy isolation team,” Barnes said of the Tigers. “They’re going to see who they can take advantage of and they are going to use that 2-2-1 press they always use so that’s going to be a challenge. They’re a very explosive offensive team.”