Tennessee opened its 2021-22 basketball season with an easy, 75-43, victory over instate foe Tennessee Tech Monday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols couldn’t get a shot to go in the first half but built a lead with stingy defense before getting the offense going in the second half.
Here’s three quick takeaways on the season opening win.
Vols Shoot Poorly In First Half
Tennessee’s offense struggled to find a rhythm in the first half due largely to poor shooting— particularly from the perimeter.
Tennessee scored just 27 first half points on nine-of-29 (31%) shooting from the field and four-of-21 (9%) shooting from three-point range.
The Vols had an abundance of open shots but couldn’t get anything to fall. Zakai Zeigler and Santiago Vescovi both struggled with their shooting stroke in the opening half, combining for just five points on one-of-nine shooting from three-point range.
Tennessee’s offense was a little stagnant at times and settled for too many jumpers but mostly missed open shots. The biggest offensive issue were the eight turnovers. Tennessee got very sloppy offensively especially after jumping out to a comfortable lead in the first eight minutes.
Big men Olivier Nkamhoua and Uros Plavsic struggled to hold on to passes down low and the Vols’ interior scoring reflected it. Tennessee’s frontcourt totaled zero first half points as the scoring came from the exterior.
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Suffocating Defense Is Back
Tennessee’s program has become synonymous with stellar defense over the past few seasons. With “defensive coordinator” Mike Schwartz now the head coach at East Carolina there was a period of defensive transition this offseason.
There was no sign of change for Tennessee’s defense in the opener as they held the Golden Eagles to 16 first half points and 43 points on the game.
Five minutes into the game Tennessee Tech had as many turnovers as they did shot attempts. The Golden Eagles finished the game with 22 turnovers.
The Vols were suffocating on the defensive end, denying everything and playing tight man defense. While a few of the Golden Eagles’ turnovers were unforced, Tennessee recorded 17 steals including three from Santiago Vescovi and two from Zakai Zeigler.
A strong shooting second half for Tennessee Tech made its offensive numbers much more respectable. It was just Tennessee Tech, but still, the Vols’ defense looked like the unit we’ve seen in recent years.
Tyreke Key’s Offense Leads The Way
The one offensive position for Tennessee in the first half was Indiana State transfer Tyreke Key. Key totaled 11 points on three-of-five shooting from the field and made two of Tennessee’s four threes.
That offensive success continued early into the second half when Key made two triples in the first three minutes.
Those shots seemingly got the lid off the basket for Tennessee. The Vols’ offense got going in the second half, totaling 48 points on 10-of-23 shooting (44%) from three-point range.
Key was quiet offensively for the final 17 minutes while still finishing with a game-high 17 points. The fifth year senior showed his offensive output in Tennessee’s exhibition win over Gonzaga was no coincidence. Key appears to be one of Tennessee’s best offensive threats with a well rounded game and a beautiful three-point stroke.
Key rounded out his Tennessee debut with four rebounds, one assist and just two turnovers in 25 minutes.