Tennessee’s offense has struggled this season when Kennedy Chandler has struggled. Saturday, Chandler played far from his best game, but the Vols were still able to dominate UNC Greensboro, 76-36.
Chandler struggled shooting against the Spartans, tallying nine points on two-of-nine shooting from the field and one-of-four from three-point range. It wasn’t all a wash for Chandler as the freshman point guard dished out six assists while turning it over just once.
The Vols offense was able to overcome without him due to balanced scoring and solid shooting. Eleven Tennessee players scored and five scored nine or more points as Santiago Vescovi and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield’s 12 points tied for a game.
Earlier this week, Rick Barnes said Huntley-Hatfield was turning in his best practices of the season. The five-star freshman provided the interior scoring that Tennessee has been missing, making six-of-10 attempts in the win.
“Those two guys, Olivier and Brandon, have a chance to give us the physicality that we need,” Barnes said. “They’re both extremely strong players. Brandon doesn’t even understand how strong he is yet. We need those two guys to understand that this team needs that from them. Like anybody, if they’re open, I’ll let them shoot it if they’re doing the other things. If they’re not doing the other things and shooting threes, probably not so much. We need those guys to give us what they’re capable of. Brandon has had a different mindset the last two days in practice and if he’ll continue to do that, he’ll continue to play more minutes.”
The Vols bounced back from their abysmal three-point shooting performance against Texas Tech, making 13-of-35 (37%) attempts from three-point range.
Three Vols made multiple triples including Josiah Jordan James. Entering Saturday’s game, James had made three-of-25 triples this season. The junior made four-of-seven attempts against the Spartans on his way to a season high 12 points.
“Josiah, he’s a big-time shooter,” Barnes said. “I’m sure teams look at his numbers and say that. I told him, I said, ‘You don’t need to force anything, because you’re going to get all the looks you want. Just do it on your terms, with your rhythm.’ I thought he really got in a rhythm today with his shots. I hope people don’t guard him, because he’s one guy when he’s open, he’s going to shoot it. That to me is another growth in his development, because he’s always been a very pass first kind of player. The fact is, when he’s in rhythm just shooting it, he can shoot it as well as anybody.”
Tennessee’s three-point shooting this season has been extremely strong inside Thompson-Boling Arena but extremely poor anywhere else. The Vols are shooting 40.5% from three-point range at home and 20.5% from three-point range in away or neutral site games.
Whether that’s a result of more comfortability at home, playing worse teams at home or purely coincidental is unclear, but something I’m following the rest of the season.
“In terms of the shooting thing, I just don’t know,” Santiago Vescovi said of the home/road shooting splits. “I don’t know if it’s comfort, if it’s a coincident or what it is. I just can’t figure it out yet.”
While Tennessee’s offense was solid without a good performance from Chandler, red flags that have showed up all year reared their ugly heads against UNC Greensboro.
The Vols couldn’t get to the charity stripe, shooting just seven free throws in the win. Tennessee is shooting less free throws per game than any other team in the power six and the Vols inability to get to the line against lesser opponents doesn’t bode well for SEC play.
Tennessee also struggled to get looks at the basket. While the Vols made 64% of their shots at the rim, they only accounted for 22% of their shot attempts while 55% came from three-point range and 23% came in the mid range.
While Huntley-Hatfield had a strong game, the Vols are still too reliant on their shooting — especially when Chandler isn’t scoring at the basket.
Still, Saturday’s game was a step in the right direction for Tennessee’s offense as they found a way to play well without strong play from its best player.