Porter Moser 1-11 (Texas Postgame)
Tennessee got back in the win column Tuesday night, defeating South Carolina, 66-46, at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Santiago Vescovi led the Vols with 14 points, but it was the Zakai Zeigler and Josiah Jordan James show. James notched a double-double and Zeigler brought the energy off the bench, recording 11 points, four assists and four steals.
Here’s everything Rick Barnes said after the win.
Question: How pleased were you with the defensive bounce back after the LSU game?
“Well, we did, and I think when you look at it, we got really going. I thought Zakai [Ziegler] came in andreally brought some energy. I thought his ball pressure was really important. Josiah [James] I thought was terrific tonight. You know he had a double-double tonight, but this team looks at him and theyknow that he’ll find a way to help some way somehow. I thought his first three was a great look at it. Second one he had to shoot, and you worry because you know he’s wanting to take good shots butthought the shot for him at the end of the first half was a big play. He was so involved and so much defensively, even offensively moving the ball. Fulky [John Fulkerson] I thought came back, but again, we just need consistency from our older players. I thought Olivier [Nkamhoua] was too anxious early in thegame. He had come off a couple games where he was doing some things. I said this, ‘it seemed like every time you [Olivier] get the ball, you’ve already made up your mind what you’re going to do with it.’Can’t play basketball that way. We talked about how we have to get to the line. We got there, we just need to take advantage of it. We’re better than that. When you get your shooters there, you’ve got to get something from it, and that’s part of it. Otherwise, if we would’ve just made a decent percentage, we would’ve scored 70-something, maybe 80 points, but we didn’t. It’s always hard playing against South Carolina, but I think it’s obvious that these guys are working as hard as they can on the defensiveend, and we’ve got to continue to do that. Again, truly believe that when we’ll get the ball popping, we’ll be a much better team, much better offensive team.”
Q: How did John Fulkerson bounce back and was that Kennedy Chandler’s best defensive game?
“I do think Kennedy was better defensively. I do. I think the biggest thing is he continues to learn thisgame and what it’s about. He’s going to continue to get better and better. He’s still learning howdifferent teams play different ball screens. Early in the game, they did as good a job as anybody in thecountry when you set a ball screen, the defender just fights hard to get over it. If you don’t set them up, if you don’t hold a screen, you’re not going to get anything out of the ball screen. Our spacing wasn’t great there. I don’t think there’s any question Kennedy’s trying to work as hard as he can defensively. I think it’s all new for him to play at the level we need him to play at. And John, I thought he came back, and you know he took himself out of the game a couple times, which that’s what we said to him. Wedon’t know where he is with how he’s feeling, but tonight, I thought he really worked hard in the post. I think their post had one bucket or one point, but they did a good job of fighting for space in there.”
Q: What is Zakai Zeigler’s defensive mindset and what makes him so effective?
“What we do know when he comes in the game is that everything is going to change. Tempo is going to change. Sometimes he goes too deep. The last game he didn’t play much. What he’s done all year is come in and bring energy. He’s fearless. He’s not going to back down from anybody. He’s like Santiago(Vescovi). Both of those guys are in elite shape. We keep up with how many miles guys run since the very first day of practice. He and Santi are way out in front because they practice like that. That’s why they’re in such great shape. There’s no doubt our team has a lot of confidence when Zakai comes in the game. We know he’s going to fight, scratch, and do anything he has to do to help us win.”
Q: How do you balance the excitement with getting to the free throw line at a higher rate versus the poor shooting percentage?
“You have to still get to the line. You just want to make more than the other team shoots. We made eleven free throws. If you can just make more than they can shoot, regardless of how you shoot it, it’s a good thing. We’ve still got to get there. Kennedy (Chandler) obviously had a tough night. The guys that we’re counting on to make them, they’ve got to make them. With the guards, you expect it. They’re not going to make them all, but we’ve got to continue to get there.”
Q: How challenging is it to get your players to play hard on defense when the offense struggles?
“We were struggling on offense, and we were putting so much effort into our defense. On offense, we wouldn’t struggle as much if we would simply do what we practice. If you saw us yesterday in practice, we played the way we wanted to play. I think South Carolina and Tennessee mirror each other more than any two teams in the league. When I got here, I was trying to show the example of what it takes to play high level defense. The first couple of years we were here, we watched South Carolina tape with our players. We said, ‘This is what it takes to win.’ I’ve known Frank Martin forever. I knew what it waslike playing against him when he was at Kansas State. To get the standard that we wanted, that was a team that we emulated, and we said, ‘This is the standard in this league.’ And the group, those guys would tell you that they learned a lot from watching those teams when we first got here. Now we have the standard, and we have to continue to play defense. We were in a struggle tonight offensively. I just want the guys that whose jobs are to shoot it to shoot the ball. We have not told anybody how to do it. Ialways said to take good rhythm shots. If they don’t, it turns out how it did tonight. They scored in thefirst half off of turnovers, and I will go back and say that most of them were because our guys didn’t shoot the ball. You have to shoot it. We’ll go rebound it. We should really feel confident to shoot the ball because we guard the way we guard. We know we’re going to have opportunities to do it. It goes back to when we’re moving the ball and the ball’s not sticking. That’s when we become an effective offensiveteam. We keep talking about how we have to get guys to stop making the same mistakes. Scouting has something to do with it. What you want to do is play to your strengths and stay away from things youdon’t do well. Very few guys do it all well. We’ve got to get there.”
Q: Is Justin Powell not shooting him focusing on his defense or being tentative?
“He has to shoot it when he’s open, especially when the shot clock’s running down. He can’t throw theball into the net with the shot clock coming down. He got it deflected and put us in a bad situation. He has to be aware of the clock. Again, one of the hardest things to guard in basketball is a guy that pops upon you. That’s hard to guard. We work on it every day. We would tell you, that’s one of the hardestthings to guard—when you have guards that can pop up on you. He should be that kind of player, wherehe can pop up and hit it. Justin’s a (newcomer) too. I don’t know how many games he played a year ago, but he’s still learning too.”
Q: Is there anything you can pinpoint about the poor free throw shooting?
“I’ve said it before, if I could coach DNA and made shots, we’d play the perfect game. I promise you that you can’t. Teams go through it. We go through it. I can tell you there have been games we’ve played thisyear where we look like a good offensive team. The difference is every game takes on a differentpersonality. When you’re dealing with young guys on the floor and some inexperience, it takes them a while to get the speed of the game. It takes them a while to get a feel for the game. It still goes back toexecution. When things don’t break down, we have a flow that we haven’t gotten to as much as we should. We’ve got to believe in that as opposed to throwing the ball to somebody and saying, ‘I have togo make a play.’ Nope, it will happen naturally. As much time and reps that we’ve got in, it’s a mindset. It really is. I think it’s the same thing going to the free throw line. It’s a mindset. You’ve got to want to be there. I don’t think there’s anybody on our team who doesn’t want to be there, but you’ve got to make them.”
Q: On opening the game up in the middle 10 minutes of the game?
“If you watch it, it goes back to the speed of the game. Our team, when we get the speed going, that’s good for us, as well as when the ball’s moving. The ball’s simply moving. It’s not sticking in anybody’shands. Guys get playing together. When the ball sticks, even when we run ball screens, we have to getto it quicker. We’ve got to be more effective with it. The ball’s got to get popping.”