Tennessee bounced back from its first loss of the season Sunday afternoon, dominating North Carolina 89-72 in the third place game of the Hall of Fame Tip Off.
Here are three quick takeaways from the bounce back performance.
Tennessee bounced back from a horrific offensive performance in Saturday’s loss to Villanova. The Vols scored just 53 points against the Wildcats in their first loss of the season before scoring 89 today.
Santiago Vescovi had another solid performance and Kennedy Chandler bounced back from a poor performance Saturday. However, it was the improved play from everyone across Tennessee’s roster that led to the strong offensive performance.
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John Fulkerson and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield gave the Vols an interior presence. Fulkerson scored 13 points on six-of-seven shooting and Huntley-Hatfield added six points.
Chandler scored just 14 points but was awesome facilitating Tennessee’s offense adding eight assists while turning it over just two times.
However, the biggest boost to Tennessee’s offense was the play of Zakai Zeigler. More on him below.
In total, Tennessee had four players score in double figures, seven players score six or more shots and nine players score.
Strong Defensive Performance
One of the biggest questions facing Tennessee entering the weekend was how its defense would hold up against increased competition. The Vols’ defense held up its end of the bargain in a 1-1 weekend.
Tennessee was solid on the defensive end against Villanova but were even better in the win over North Carolina.
The Tar Heels shot just 40% from the field but an impressive 43% from three-point range. Tennessee didn’t give up many easy looks at all which was particularly impressive with James — its defensive glue guy — out.
Rick Barnes called Santiago Vescovi Tennessee’s most improved player on the offseason and the junior guard has made serious leaps on his defensive game. Vescovi’s quickness is still limited, but he’s in elite shape, is playing incredibly hard and has great hands. Vescovi had two steals Sunday.
Tennessee’s rim protection is much better than I anticipated it being without Yves Pons. Without any true shot blockers, the Vols recorded four blocks in the win.
Big Day For Zeigler
Zakai Zeigler looked like a player that could come in and surprise some people this preseason.
I don’t think anyone could have predicted what the 5-foot-9 true freshman did Sunday. Against the blue blood 18th-ranked Tar Heels, Zeigler was the best player on the court, scoring a team high 18 points.
The freshman point guard made seven-of-10 shot attempts and three-of-five from three-point range.
Zeigler was in complete control at all times, controlling the pace and giving the Vols a second point guard on the court to go along with Chandler. The Bronx, New York native dished out five assists and didn’t turn it over in 28 minutes of play.
There aren’t enough words to describe how impressive that is for a kid that graduated high school a year early and is in just his fourth college game.
It’s less than two weeks removed from Barnes saying he couldn’t play Chandler and Zeigler at the same time because of their off ball defense. Well they played a lot of minutes together Sunday and held their own on the defensive end.
The sets up all sort of interesting lineups Tennessee can play and makes the Vols’ offensive ceiling much higher.