CBB Recap: Ron Harper Jr. Hits Half Court Buzzer Beater To Upset #1 Purdue 70-68
Tennessee jumped out to an early lead over UNC Greensboro and coasted from there, using suffocating defense to beat the Spartans, 76-36.
Here are three quick takeaways.
Tennessee’s Shooting Bounces Back
Tennessee entered Saturday’s game coming off its worst shooting performance of the season. The Vols shot six-of-39 from three-point range in their overtime loss to Texas Tech in the wort offensive outing of the young season.
Back at the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena, the Vols shooting radically improved. Tennessee made seven-of-18 attempts from three-point range in the first half, accounting for 64% of its offense and allowing the Vols to open up a comfortable lead.
In total, Tennessee made 13-of-35 of three-point attempts for a solid 37%.
Taking more than they usually have this season, Tennessee shot well from the mid range Saturday, posting seven-of-15 shooting.
Josiah Jordan James had by far his best shooting day of the season, making four-of-seven attempts. The junior forward entered today’s game shooting three-of-25 from beyond the arc.
If James can become a competent three-point shooter it would be a major boost for Tennessee’s offense that wants to shoot threes.
Still, much of Tennessee’s offensive issues continued. The Vols struggled to get open shots at the basket, taking just 14 of their 64 shot attempts at the rim. If Tennessee can’t get more open looks at the basket against a SoCon team, that doesn’t bode well for SEC play.
Vols Suffocate Spartans
Tennessee’s defense has been a surprising strength of its team all season. The Vols have been so good on the defensive end that they entered today’s game with KenPom’s top defense.
The Vols continued their strong defense Saturday, holding the Spartans to 36 points and just 15 points in the first half. That allowed Tennessee to open up a comfortable lead in the first half despite a mediocre offensive performance.
Tennessee’s defense dominated in nearly every statistical category. The Vols forced a massive 25 turnovers including 13 steals. The Vols are forcing turnovers at one of the highest rates in the Rick Barnes era and if they can turn that defense into offense it would be a major boost for the Vols offense.
The Spartans shot 37% from the field and 19% from three-point range as the Vols forced a number of challenging shots.
UNC Greensboro totaled just .590 points per possession and their 36 points was 32 under its season average.
While Tennessee’s offense still has issues and is performing worse than I expected in the early season, the Vols’ defense has been simply fantastic. The Vols haven’t had a drop off after losing perhaps the best shot blocker in school history — Yves Pons — and elite defensive wings Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer.
That gives Tennessee a chance to figure out its offensive issues while still playing quality opponents tight with a chance to win.
Tennessee Continues To Struggle To Get To The Charity Stripe
Tennessee’s offense entered Saturday’s game taking the least amount of free throws per game of any team in the power five.
That continued Saturday when the Vols attempted just seven free throws — less than its 11 attempts per game — against an undersized mid major opponent.
Barnes has long said, including this week, that he wants his team to make more free throws than the other team attempts. Unfortunately for Barnes, that just doesn’t seem plausible with this roster.
Kennedy Chandler and Zakai Zeigler are the only Tennessee guards that can get to the basket and draw fouls, but Chandler is much more likely to look for an open teammate then to go into contact hoping for a foul call.
I’ve written at length about Tennessee’s frontcourt’s limitations offensively. The Vols simply don’t have a big man that other opponents truly have to respect.
How Tennessee creates more opportunities at the free throw line is unclear to me, but the Vols need a way to get more easy points in games where its shots aren’t falling.