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Season Opener Shows Tennessee Won’t Shy Away From Taking Threes

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball’s 2022-23 season opener against Tennessee Tech, a 75-43 victory, had similarities to last season’s against UT Martin.

A year ago against the Skyhawks, Tennessee attempted 40 three-pointers— the second most in program history. Tennessee attempted 44 triples in the season opener against the Golden Eagles— its new second highest in program history.

The difference? 

Against UT Martin, the Vols came out shooting hot on their way to making 17 attempts. Against Tennessee Tech, Tennessee made just four-of-21 first half triples and relied on its defense to build a double-digit halftime lead.

Eighth year head coach Rick Barnes wouldn’t have it any other way— wanting his team to bomb open attempts from deep.

“We’re going to shoot the ball,” Barnes said. “We’ve worked too hard not to do that. I’m not sure we had many of them that were what I would call a bad shot. We knew going in that they were going to pack it back in there. We knew that if played inside out, that’s what it would be. We said hey, if we’re open, take it.”

The patience paid off. Tennessee made five of its first seven three-point attempts out of halftime, turning its 11-point halftime advantage into a 19-point lead less than five minutes into the second half.

Barnes attributed the change in offensive philosophy over the last two seasons to the skillset of his roster. Tennessee has been good at shooting threes in practice and made 13-of-28 in its exhibition win over No. 2 Gonzaga.

The last thing Barnes wanted to do was pull in the reins after a poor shooting half.

I think the worst thing is when we get them hesitant,” Barnes said. “For the most part, I don’t think they were hesitant. The fact is we ended up in the second half shooting it well. That is more in line with what we do.”

Despite his contentment with the three-point shot selection, Barnes wasn’t thrilled with parts of the offensive performance. The Vols shoot a bunch of threes in part because they believe they can rebound a large number of them on nights the ball isn’t going in.

The Vols weren’t up to their head coach’s standard in the season opener.

“Didn’t get done what we wanted to get done on the offensive boards or the defensive boards, the way we grade out,” Barnes said. “We didn’t get our number there.”

More From RTI: Three Takeaways From Tennessee’s Season Opening Win

Turnovers were another issue for Tennessee. Its three main ball handlers tallied seven of the team’s 15 and Barnes noted “that shouldn’t happen.”

Tennessee’s 806 attempted triples a season ago was the third most in program history. The altered offensive identity was a major reason the Vols jumped from 85th to 35th in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency.

There’s reason to believe Tennessee will shoot even more of them at a higher clip this season. The Vols’ best shooters from a season ago are back and Key looks like high volume shooter that can make them at a high clip.

“I do because we just have the talent to do it,” James said on if this year’s team can be better from the perimeter. “One through five, I think we have people all on the court who practice those shots, who have the green light to shoot those shots. I think that’s going to be our M.O. for sure.”

The downside to that identity shift is what happened in the first half of Monday’s season opener and in the Vols’ Round of 32 loss to Michigan.

That’s why Tennessee must rebound better and find more interior scoring than the 11 points it got from its frontcourt against Tennessee Tech.

But the new offensive identity can propel teams to fantastic offensive performances and deep NCAA Tournament runs when they get hot. There’s bound to be plenty of those robust offensive performances this season.

“We didn’t really shoot the best tonight, but the nights they’re going to go in, we’re going to score a lot of points,” Key said. “Everybody can shoot it and that’s why we’re such an explosive offensive team. The nights they’re going to fall is going to be a good night.”

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