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Three Quick Takeaways: Tennessee Runs Past Butler In The Bahamas

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball opened up play at the Battle 4 Atlantis with a, 71-45, victory over Butler. The Vols trailed for the majority of the first half before making a late run to close the half.

Tennessee’s strong close to the first half was a sign of things to come as the Vols dominated the Bulldogs in the second half.

Here’s three quick takeaways on Tennessee’s Battle 4 Atlantis opening win.

Another Offensive Slug Fest

Tennessee’s yet to find its offensive rhythm this season and that continued in its Battle 4 Atlantis opening game against Butler. The good news for the Vols is that their defense was good enough against Butler to drag the Bulldogs into a defensive slug fest.

That made for a game that was not easy on the eyes. Both teams struggled to score mightily with made baskets at a major premium— especially in the first half.

“We have guys that are competitive and understand they’ve got to do a great job not only with our team concept but with their individual matchups,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said postgame. “Both teams, you have to give a lot of credit to Butler too with their defense. It was really a hard fought, physical game. It really was.”

Josiah-Jordan James missed the game for Tennessee and the Vols got little consistent offensive production from anyone. An abundance of contributors provided points and multiple included sparks. Santiago Vescovi’s second half spark, more on that in a moment, was the most notable but Julian Phillips and Tyreke Key provided them as well.

Tennessee finished the game shooting 48% from the field and 33% from three point-range while turning it over 16 times. Butler finished the game shooting 32% from the field and 22% from three point-range while turning it over 23 times.

More From RTI: Uros Plavsic Healthy And Available For Battle 4 Atlantis

Two Massive Runs Spark Tennessee

Butler took the lead early and didn’t look back for most of the first half. It’s hard to say Butler retained the momentum throughout  sloppy first 15 minutes of the game but the Bulldogs were certainly in control of the game.

Then Tennessee found its offensive footing to go along with its strong defense. The Vols went on a 10-0 run in the final 3:31 of the first half to take a, 28-23, lead into the locker room.

Jahmai Mashack sparked the run with a bucket and scored another right handed finish on the left side of the basket to give Tennessee a 24-23 lead— its first of the game.

Zakai Zeigler put the bow on a strong close to the first half, drilling a deep three-pointer in the final seconds of the half. The sophomore point guard’s triple marked Tennessee’s first made three-pointer on seven attempts. After struggling for much of the first half, Zeigler’s triple extended Tennessee’s lead to five.

“I thought the way we closed the first half was a very important part of the game,” Barnes said.

The run to end the first half gave Tennessee control of the game but hardly ended Butler’s chances. After Tennessee opened the second half on a 4-0 run the Bulldogs quickly regrouped and cut the Vols’ lead to two points with just under 15 minutes left in the half.

That’s when Tennessee’s second run came in. The Vols went on a 17-1 run sparked by 11 Vescovi points including his first three triples of the game.

“I think what got me going was my teammates, no doubt,” Vescovi said. “I think the energy that they brought on the defensive end, I think it’s just something contagious, that gets everybody going. Then knowing that coaches and also my teammates trust me shooting the ball.

Tennessee extended its lead to 18 points and was in complete control of the game following the second run. The Vols and Bulldogs played similarly for most the game but Tennessee used two runs to coast to the victory.

Vols Play Inside Out

Rick Barnes isn’t afraid for Tennessee to shoot an abundance of threes. In fact, he’s content with it. But after struggling to shoot from the perimeter in the first two games of the season the Vols have put an emphasis on attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line.

That showed up in the first half when Tennessee shot just seven three pointers and 13 free throws. That continued from the jump in the second half when the Vols got Key a wide open layup off a curl and Uros Plavsic scored on a baby hook in the half’s first two possessions.

Tennessee continued to attack the basket throughout the game and had an abundance of success doing so. The Vols made 14-of-19 baskets at the rim. Those baskets came from post ups, cuts and a handful of drives from Mashack and Julian Phillips.

“When we weren’t making shots, obviously we want to play inside-out and I think that’s where we are as a team right now,” Barnes said. “Trying to figure out when to shoot the ball.”

The Vols would like to get more high quality shots at the rim from guards, particularly, Zeigler. Still, the ability to get to the basket against Butler was a step forward.

Once Tennessee loosened up the Bulldogs inside, they shot much better from the perimeter. The Vols shot four-for-eight from the perimeter in the second half thanks in large part to Vescovi’s spark.

Final Stats

Up Next

Tennessee advances to the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Vols will face Southern Cal at 1:30 p.m. ET Thanksgiving day. ESPN2 is broadcasting the game.

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