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Everything Rick Barnes Said After Dominant First-Round Victory

Richmond Upsets Iowa in the First Round of the NCAA Men’s Tournament While Emoni Bates Returns to the Floor for Memphis

The Tennessee Volunteers are off to as good of a start in the NCAA Tournament as they could have asked for. The Vols cruised to a dominant victory over No. 14 Longwood in Indianapolis by a score of 88 to 56.

The Vols will now take on No. 11 Michigan in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday after the Wolverines upset No. 6 Colorado State before the Vols took the court.

NCAA Tournament: Three Quick Takeaways: Tennessee Blows Past Longwood

After the Vols’ massive win against Longwood, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes met with the media to discuss his thoughts on the game. During his press conference on Thursday afternoon, Barnes spoke about a few players individually, such as John Fulkerson and Victor Bailey Jr.

Overall, Barnes was pleased with Tennessee’s play on the court, besides just the scoreboard. After a physically demanding SEC Tournament last weekend in Tampa, Barnes says that resetting the team’s focus heading into Indianapolis was a significant key to getting into strong positioning for the game.

“Let’s be who we are,” Barnes said about the Vols’ mindset heading into the contest. “Let’s do what we have done to get us here. Let’s trust each other, trust what we do.”

The Vols looked like their best self on Thursday – a team that can shoot, play defense, and plays for one another. We’ll see if the Vols can continue that momentum on Saturday when they take on the Michigan Wolverines.

Below is everything that Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said after the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.

Opening Statement

RICK BARNES: First of all, really like to congratulate Longwood University on a great year, and what Coach Aldridge does with his program and what it stands for is really something that we should all be proud of in college basketball. But with that said, getting for them, I was concerned because I think they do a lot of wonderful things on the offensive end. Start of the game we have been a pretty good ball screen defense but had he were getting pretty much what they wanted out of it and we decided to go with a switching defense which bogged them down a bit and then offensively we were patient, working, and we had to work, they make you do that, they do a great job getting in the gaps. But proud of the approach our guys took getting ready for this game and now it’s on to the next one.

Q. You’ve been strong defensively all year. How happy are you with your play?

RICK BARNES: What we have been able to do is make some adjustments with this group because of the ability that Josiah has to play, where we can go to a switching lineup, and even today, we were doing it a couple times with guys that we normally wouldn’t do that with because when we started the game, and again, Longwood is so well-coached, and they are so disciplined, and they really put you in some really tough situations. We started the game trying not to switch but they were really — because we wanted to defend the three-point line. We are normally a heavy gap team on the ball screen, and we were concerned about the — because they read it so well. They are just so well-coached.

We felt like that, again, probably around the 14-minute, 15-minute mark, we started switching everything, pretty much everything.

I thought our big guys did a really good job for us. But we tried to be the best we can be defensively every night, and do I think we can get better? I think this team of year, you have to always think you can get better.

Q. What has VJ done to change his game the last four weeks and become a more consistent rotational player?

RICK BARNES: You know, again, because we were playing small and we wanted to stay fresh and stay aggressive but VJ, as I said before, he’s never let’s go off the rope. He keeps — he’s locked in to what we want him to do defensively and I thought he really made some really good decisions with the ball today, moving the basketball. And the fact is, as a coaching staff, we have confidence in him. But really, probably more important, his teammates do.

We are in a situation in the last game, and Josiah, we were discussing some guys who we might think about putting in the game and Josiah piped up right away and said, put VJ in the game and we didn’t even hesitate once Josiah said that. I think it’s a real compliment to VJ that the guys that have been with him the longest have that confidence in him.

Q. Don’t have a ton of NCAA experience on your team; did you worry about pregame jitters?

RICK BARNES: I guess I’m concerned about all that because there’s just so many thoughts that go through your mind. But with that said, you know, we are very transparent with our team about scenarios that happen, and we actually talked about the last time we were in this same situation right here with Wright State, we came out and showed — that team was a good defensive team but came out totally doing not what we had done to get to us that point. And then we finally, around the 12-minute mark around that game, we started doing the things that we needed to do and got a nice win.

So we just said, said, hey, let’s be ready to go from the beginning. Let’s be who we are. Let’s do what we have done to get us here. Let’s trust each other, trust what we do.

And I think Josiah, certainly Santi, and I thought Kennedy today was really locked in there, too. But I thought Brandon was, because he knew he was going to have to play on the perimeter more, and Uros looked very winded to start with and when John came in, he definitely impacted the game quickly on the offensive end.

But it goes back to, I think, guys that have been in it, what we were up against, and again, have great respect for Longwood.

Q. I asked the players the same kind of question. You call a time-out right there around the 15-minute mark and seemed like you were agitated with the defense. What went into that conversations, what did you see when they first kind of started because then all of a sudden your team started hitting it from outside the perimeter.

RICK BARNES: Well, that was the situation where Uros blew two coverages, and that’s really what we talked about, and he wasn’t — I don’t know, again, exactly why he did what he did. I mean, I thought he really struggled to start the game.

I think he might have gotten hit a little bit. But we blew two ball screen coverages where it was nonexistent, and that’s why I called the time-out to get that back organized.

Q. Going back to John, you did turn to him off the bench pretty early there. Specifically what did you see from him early on that gave y’all the spark?

RICK BARNES: Well, we went with it because again like I said, Uros looked like he struggled physically to get up and down the floor and John came in and they started out as you would think guarding Santi almost like a take-out situation and as well as Santi shot today, he did a great job passing the ball. But when they were spread out, again, I do think people respect our shooting and Fulke gets some space in there. Got some good assists from his teammates.

Again, I told him that he — defensively, too, because when we start switching it was putting those guys on whoever it might be. But Fulke definitely I thought was locked in ready to play.

Q. You talked a lot about players taking the shots that they play in practice. Is what you have seen from your guards in the last month what you were talking about?

RICK BARNES: When you see the assists, when we are moving the ball — again, you go back when I was getting agitated at the end. We were — too many guys setting on the ball too much and trying to dribble through a team that’s, I’m telling you, a really solid defensive team.

And when we move the ball and we move the parts, that’s when we play our best basketball. We have got guys that can pass and we have got guys that can cut and move without the ball. It’s when we get stagnant is when we bog down. Yeah, I would say that now we are at the top where we are really getting the shots that we practice.

Q. I know there’s more time to think about this obviously moving forward, but first impression, how different a game are you looking at here going from Longwood to the size and athleticism of Michigan?

RICK BARNES: It’s very different, no doubt it’s a different game. To be quite honest with you, I won’t allow myself to even think who we are going to play next, I just won’t. Because now I have — we put a lot of thought into Longwood because we respected them that much and what they did.

But obviously our coaches have been working on it, and we know that they are big, and there’s no doubt they are going to pound it in there. It’s going to take a great team effort, not only from our post players doing their work early and doing their job, but the guards helping, because we have always believed that post defense starts on the perimeter. We’ll have to have a great team effort.

Transcript via NCAA.

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