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Tennessee Makes It Look Easy Against Longwood, Never Take That Granted

Alabama Basketball Press Conference In San Diego

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Tennessee earned its first NCAA Tournament win since March 2019 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse Thursday afternoon. Not only did Tennessee punch its ticket to the Round of 32, but they cruised past 14-seed Longwood with ease.

Don’t take that for granted.

“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,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “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.”

Stress free wins in the NCAA Tournament don’t come along often. The Vols’ 2019 team — that spent six weeks as the nation’s No. 1 team — struggled with a 15-seeded Colgate team who shot fantastic from the perimeter.

Since Bruce Pearl took over the Tennessee program in 2005-06 and got them back to the “Big Dance” consistently, the Vols have only earned a handful of nerveless victories.

Pearl provided just one of those wins in his six years in Knoxville as the 2007 Vols dominated Long Island State in the opening round of the tournament.

Even Tennessee’s 2008 team — that won the SEC and reached No. 1 — struggled with 15-seed American, leading four points at the final media timeout.

Ironically, two of Cuonzo Martin’s three NCAA Tournament wins in Knoxville were blowouts. The Vols’ bullied both UMass and Mercer on their way to the 2014 Sweet 16 and a matchup with Michigan — more on them in a bit.

Tennessee’s victory over Longwood was its second NCAA Tournament blowout victory of the Rick Barnes era, joining the 2018 Wright State game.

That is the abnormality. Outside of one tournament run, Tennessee entered Thursday’s matchup with just two blowout NCAA Tournament wins in the last two decades.

With Rick Barnes’ NCAA Tournament struggles over the past decade, Tennessee fans should savor watching its team win a game in the “Big Dance” without having to break a sweat.

“I feel like learning from what happened last year,” Tennessee forward Josiah-Jordan James said. “We were one of those teams who just thought things were going to happen. We weren’t really playing desperate. We just talked this week leading up to this game, being the more desperate team and knowing that every team in this tournament is a championship team, and so you can’t take anything for granted. I felt like we did a good job in preparing for that.”

Things will get much more difficult for the Vols on Saturday when they face No. 11 seed Michigan in the Round of 32. Tip-off time has yet to be announced.

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