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How Vols’ Justin Powell Can See More Playing Time

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes gave the answer on Tuesday night, and frankly, the answer is simple.

When it comes to Tennessee sophomore guard Justin Powell, you’re talking about a true perimeter sharpshooter on the basketball court. When Powell transferred into Tennessee this last off-season from Auburn, it gave the Vols another piece on the offensive end that could stretch the defense and give Tennessee space to work with.

During his first 10 appearances this season for Tennessee in the non-conference schedule, Powell was averaging 18.7 minutes on the court and 7.3 points per game.

However, since the start of SEC play, Powell’s minutes and points have slowly started to decline. In the Vols’ first eight SEC games, from Alabama to Florida, the sophomore guard was averaging just 18.1 minutes of play and 3.5 points per game. Additionally, in Tennessee’s last two games against Texas and Texas A&M, Powell has averaged just 10 minutes and three points per contest (Six points against A&M).

So, what happened to Tennessee’s marksman from the beginning of the year?

Rick Barnes spoke about exactly what it is he needs to see from Powell to put him on the court more. And when you hear what Barnes has to say, it’s hard not to be taken back by the sheer simplicity.

“I told Justin; I told the people out there; Justin would play a lot more if he’d shoot the ball when he’s open,” Barnes said after the win against Texas A&M.

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While there is more underneath the surface, it is as simple as it sounds. Powell is an excellent three-point shooter and Barnes just wants him to let it fly whenever he is open as opposed to hesitating. And really, that sound’s like a shooter’s dream to hear from his head coach.

“Tonight, he turned it over twice,” Barnes continued on to say about Powell after the A&M game. “He’s too good of a ball-handler, but the first turnover he had in the game, he should have shot the ball as soon as it hit his hands. Those were two big threes that he hit, because they had gotten it down to two or three. Those were big.”

Currently, on the season, Powell is averaging 5.4 points per game. As mentioned earlier, Powell is most effective from the perimeter, where he is shooting 42.1 percent from three-point range this season. It’s no wonder why Barnes is imploring his sophomore transfer to shoot the ball more.

“I’m just trying to play my role to win and do anything it takes to get the job done,” Powell said back in January. “I’m not thinking about anything—shooting, defense—but all that will come if you’re just trying to do your role and hopefully, we’re playing to win at the end of the day.”

Justin Powell
Tennessee Vols (L to R) G Kennedy Chandler, G Santiago Vescovi, G Justin Powell, F Josiah-Jordan James. Photo by Ric Butler/RTI.
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Earlier in the season, closer to the beginning of SEC play, it was a different trait that Barnes was needing Powell to develop – his defense. Barnes would say that as much as Powell could be an x-factor for Tennessee on the offensive end, if he was a liability on defense, it would play a role in limiting his minutes on the court. So over the course of the next few weeks, Powell worked hard on defense, which translated to the court.

“I can always get better at it,” Powell said. “The past couple weeks, I’ve tried to guard Kennedy (Chandler) in practice and I know if I can guard him, I can guard anyone. Guarding him every day is what’s going to make me better and having the mindset of a defensive stopper and knowing nobody is going to get by me.”

During SEC play this season, Powell has yet to reach double-digits in scoring. One of the most contrasting aspects to Powell’s game is his performance at home against the road. Now, clearly, most any athlete is going to have better statistics at home where they are comfortable. However, Powell’s difference is slightly more staggering, strictly considering that he is statistically Tennessee’s best three-point shooting guard.

At home, Powell is right at the 50 percent mark from behind the arc. However, on the road, Powell’s number drops down to just 28.6 percent. While the latter number is not astronomically bad by any stretch, it is concerning for a player that Tennessee will want to rely on for big games in the tournament – away from Knoxville.

As Barnes spoke about on Tuesday, he wants to play Powell more and can see the benefits of having such a marksman on the court. While Powell has worked hard to improve his defense, it is the hesitation that Barnes wants to go away. When the shot is there, Barnes wants Justin Powell to pull the trigger and let the ball fly.

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