Tennessee earned its third win in as many games, knocking off No. 3 Kansas, 64-50, to win the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship Friday night.
The Vols never trailed and controlled the game start-to-finish to earn an early season marquee win.
Here’s three quick takeaways on an impressive Tennessee victory.
Turnovers Plague Tennessee’s Offense
Tennessee shot 44% from the field and seven-of-13 from three-point range in the first half against Kansas. There was just one problem. The Vols couldn’t stop turning the ball over.
Tennessee turned it over 17 times in the first half on its way to 24 turnovers for the game. Still the Vols found a way to beat the No. 3 team in country. College basketball is weird.
“We were trying to get them off of us by getting downhill,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “You get downhill and you get into some traffic. You’re not under control and you can travel. There’s a lot of different things that can happen where you go. Santi got himself caught in the lane but I thought fatigue was there because we usually cut and move.”
The Jayhawks had plenty of turnovers themselves coughing it up 10 times in the first half on their way for 16 for the game. Needless to say, Tennessee’s pressure defense had plenty of effect on Kansas’ offense.
Still, in a game where Tennessee got good shots, transition looks and consistently made perimeter shots, the sheer quantity of turnovers kept them from having a great offensive game.
Everyone who played major minutes was guilty of turnovers the five starters combined for 15. Olivier Nkamhoua led the way with five turnovers and Jahmai Mashack and Santiago Vescovi were not far behind with four turnovers a piece.
Santiago Vescovi Finds His Stroke
Santiago Vescovi had made just 11-of-his-37 three-point attempts (29.7%) entering the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship against Kansas.
Vescovi had shot inconsistently in the first two games of the tournament, hitting three triples in less than 90 seconds to open up the second half lead against Butler. But besides that, Vescovi struggled to find his stroke making just 1-of-15 attempts against the Bulldogs and USC.
The senior sharpshooter immediately got into a rhythm against the Jayhawks making three-of-four first half attempts.
“To be honest, I really wasn’t that much worried about it,” Vescovi said. “I knew all my teammates were going to have my back. Even if I didn’t take a shot, my teammates were going to do a great job with the ball. I trust them, all of them. I wasn’t really thinking much about it.”
Vescovi struggled in the opening minutes of the second half missing his first five attempts. However, the senior kept shooting with confidence and hit two on back-to-back possessions sparking an 11-4 run that saw Tennessee boasts its lead to double digits for the first time all game.
Vescovi wasn’t elite shooting the ball in the second half but kept providing offense that helped Tennessee climb out of lulls. The senior ended five-of-14 from deep while Zakai Zeigler hit three-of-five himself.
Tennessee Wins With Defense And Rebounding
Defense and rebounding will win you a lot of college basketball games. Tennessee’s won a lot of basketball games with great defense under Rick Barnes but not nearly as many with great rebounding.
Tennessee won with both against Kansas, using its tenacity on the defensive end of the floor and glass to overcome its turnover woes and handedly beat the Jayhawks.
The Vols earned a 45-27 advantage on the glass over Kansas but particularly dominated on the offensive end. Barnes often talks about the importance of having offensive rebounding success in games Tennessee shoots a lot of threes. The Vols shot 27 of them in the championship game and relentlessly attacked the glass when the ball went up.
Tennessee tallied 15 offensive rebounds including two early in the second half that immediately turned into baskets when Kansas made a mini run. Kansas’s 10 offensive rebound were likely more than Tennessee wanted to give up but paled in comparison to what the Vols did on the other end.
Defensively, it was a vintage Tennessee defensive performance. They pressured Kansas’ guards forcing 16 turnovers and shut down Kansas stars Grady Dick (seven points), Jalen Wilson (14 points) and Dajuan Harris (two points).
“What I would tell you, (Ziegler and Vescovi) don’t have to be making shots to impact a game,” Barnes said. “They’re fearless. A year ago when we started the season, we like to switch, but we weren’t sure we could do it with Zakai and we played Texas Tech early in the year and right off the bat they went at him and the first couple of possessions we knew we could still switch because they have a fight in them. They’re going to guard.”
Jonas Aidoo was particularly impressive, totaling nine rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
The Jayhawks shot just 32% from the field and 24% from three-point range on their way to scoring just .781 points per possession.
“We know we can’t control if we make shots or not,” Zeigler said. “But our mentality was pretty much just to stop the man in front of us, then just stay solid on the defensive end, because offense will come if you play solid defense.”
It was a vintage Tennessee defensive performance.
Tennessee returns to the court Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena against McNeese State. Tip-off is at 7:15 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.