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Tennessee got back in the win column Tuesday night, leading wire-to-wire to earn a 90-80 win over Texas A&M.
Here are three quick takeaways.
Josiah Jordan James And Victor Bailey Jr. Bring The Juice
Tennessee has started slow in a number of games at Thompson-Boling Arena this season. Especially when it’s not a marquee matchup against the Arizona and LSU’s of the world.
A pair of unlikely wings made sure that didn’t happen against Texas A&M. After missing the game winning three against the Longhorns, Josiah Jordan James started off strong, drilling a three on the left wing on the first possession of the game.
The junior forward kept his energy going, scoring seven points before the first media timeout, including a transition dunk and an and-one jump shot (he converted for his eighth point when play resumed after the media timeout).
James spent much of the first half on the bench after picking up his second foul with 11:20 left before playing an outstanding second half. The lefty scored 14 points while recording eight rebounds, five steals and one block.
Victor Bailey Jr. got increased playing time due to James’ foul trouble and the guard that helped spark the Vols’ late run at Texas showed up.
Bailey didn’t light up the stat sheet the way James did, but brought an unmissable energy. That’s something that hasn’t often been the case with Bailey and is a welcome surprise for Rick Barnes.
The senior guard made things happen on the stat sheet too, scoring four points in his first run including a ferocious half court dunk. Bailey also grabbed a contested offensive rebound.
Tennessee’s Offense As Good As Its Been In SEC Play
Tennessee’s offense was showing growth with back-to-back strong games before laying an egg Saturday at Texas. The Vols’ improving offense showed back up for Texas A&M with Tennessee scoring 90 points — its most against power six competition this season.
In the loss at Texas, Tennessee had just 35 points over 34 minutes into the game. The Vols hit the 35 point barrier with over four minutes left in the first half against the Aggies.
Besides a trap defense that rattled Tennessee in the second half — more on that below — the Vols’ strong offensive performance was a complete one.
When the Vols’ offense has been humming this season it is usually the result of their back court playing fantastic. Tonight, Tennessee got offensive output from it front court as well as its backcourt.
John Fulkerson and Uros Plavsic were decent, adding seven total points, but Olivier Nkamhoua led the way for Tennessee’s front court production. The Finland native scored 15 points on six-of-10 shooting.
The junior forward came through with a handful of big baskets when Tennessee’s offense was faltering and the game’s momentum was shifting.
That was a big reason Tennessee’s offensive performance was so strong. Long scoring droughts have been inescapable for the Vols, but they limited them Tuesday — 3:03 was the longest UT scoring drought.
While Tennessee’s front court gave the Vols something, it was the back court that still provided much of the heavy lifting.
The Kennedy Chandler, Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler lineups were wildly effective and all three scored in double figures while combining for 15 assists.
As already discussed, James had one of his best offensive games in a Tennessee uniform and Justin Powell hit a pair of important threes.
Vols Can’t Put Aggies Away
There was one aspect of Tennessee’s offensive performance that was not up to par in Tuesday’s win and that was the turnovers. The Vols turned it over 16 times — higher than their season average but not aa debilitating number of turnovers.
The problem was with how the turnovers occurred. Texas A&M threw a trapping defense at Tennessee in the second half and it gave the Vols serious issues. Not only did Tennessee turn the ball over against the defense, the turnovers led to a tremendous amount of transition layups.
Tennessee’s defense had far from its best performance, but the 80 points it gave up was not a true indicator of how it performed.
The Aggies scored just 13 points on their first shot in the half court. Texas A&M’s offense was fueled by free throws (21 points), second chance points (21) and transition points (25).
But credit a struggling Texas A&M team for scrapping and making things happen that way. The Vols struggled to put the Aggies away despite leading the entire game.
At one point, Texas A&M cut Tennessee’s lead all the way to one with over eight minutes to play. The Vols answered with a 12-0 run (including those critical Powell triples), but even then it wasn’t “game over.”
Tennessee led by as much as 15 following the run, but Texas A&M kept coming and cut the Vols’ lead to seven with under two minutes to play.