There weren’t many things that Tennessee did well or went well for the Vols in their 71-53 loss to No. 5 Villanova Saturday.
However, college basketball is a funny sport. The Vols bounced back in a big way, trouncing No. 18 North Carolina 89-72 Sunday afternoon. For a team that had 85 minutes from true freshmen Sunday, that type of quick bounce back was incredibly impressive.
“We went back and got together and went back and watched the first half last night,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “To be quite honest, I don’t think anyone was happy with what we did yesterday. What it got down to is we didn’t do anything we practiced from an offensive standpoint and it showed if you’re not locked in on both ends what can happen.”
Tennessee’s offense started slow for the second straight game, but the Vols looked much less rushed on the offensive end. The Vols were missing shots early but remained locked in on the defensive end.
Tennessee’s offense woke up in time and exploded for its most impressive performance of the young season. The Vols tallied 89 points on 54% shooting from the field and 45% from three-point range.
Barnes’ seventh Tennessee team cut its turnovers way down from Saturday to Sunday, coughing it up just 10 times.
What was perhaps most impressive about Tennessee’s win was the complete performance and strong showings from nearly every player that played. Ten Vols played, nine scored and four scored in double digits.
“Everyone today, there was not one person that played for us today that didn’t make a great contribution, some way, somehow,” Barnes said.
The star of the show was freshman point guard Zakai Zeigler who played a career high 28 minutes while scoring a career high 18 points.
The 5-foot-9 guard more than held his own on the defensive end, consistently made the right play and didn’t turn it over in the game.
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Kennedy Chandler bounced back from his worst game in his young career, dishing out a career high eight assists. Like Zeigler, Chandler was just in control of the game, doing what he wanted with the game’s pace and shooting from the perimeter the way he did in the first two games of the season.
The duo combined for 32 points on 56% shooting from the field and five-of-seven shooting from three-point range. The duo also combined for seven rebounds, 13 assists and just two turnovers.
“It’s great,” Zeigler said of playing with Kennedy Chandler. “If I can’t bring it up, he can. If he can’t bring it up, I can. We’re both quick, lightning fast so I like playing up tempo and I’m pretty sure he does. It’s great. I’ve never played with anyone like that. Only, maybe one or two other players in my entire life. It’s great. I love it.”
However, there were more positives than just the freshmen guards. Santiago Vescovi played his second straight strong game, scoring 17 points on six-of-12 shooting while recording eight rebounds and three assists.
The junior guard played fantastic defense for the second straight game and has really made strides there this offseason.
“Santi did yeoman’s work for us the last two days,” Barnes said.
In his first two games since returning from injury, John Fulkerson looked more like last season’s Fulkerson than the player we saw during the 2019-20 season. I don’t expect Tennessee to fully get that Fulkerson but the player they got Sunday was much closer to that.
Fulkerson knew what he wanted to do when he got the ball inside and was fantastic in the pick-and-roll with Chandler and Zeigler.
The super senior scored 13 points on six-of-seven shooting, adding five rebounds and six assists.
“We feel like he’s anticipating contact and trying to overdo it in there,” Barnes said of Fulkerson. “Just go do his quick game that he has. We really wanted to play through our post as much as we can in dead ball situations … Fulky really did a good job in terms of keeping it simple for the most part. We obviously like to get him running to the basket some which there at the end you saw where he was out there and Kennedy were playing those two man games. He’s really effective there.”
The list of players that gave Tennessee serious contributions goes on-and-on. Brandon Huntley-Hatfield played his most minutes of the young season and was solid on both ends of the floor.
Olivier Nkamhoua gave Tennessee strong defense and rebounding while Justin Powell provided an offensive spark as the Vols’ struggled early.
In just over 24 hours, Tennessee turned in one of the worst offensive performances of Barnes’ tenure before dominating a perennial blue blood. The Vols now head home for Thanksgiving with plenty to work on, but a big win to start building their resume on.