Tennessee basketball made quick and easy work of Mississippi State Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols jumped out to a 16-0 lead before coasting to a 87-53 victory over the Bulldogs.
Santiago Vescovi made three early triples on the way to totaling a team-high 14 points while Zakai Zeigler was brilliant at point guard, dishing out 10 assists to go with his 11 points.
Here’s everything the eighth-year Tennessee coach said about the blowout win.
More From RTI: Three Quick Takeaways on Tennessee’s Win Over Mississippi State
On the fast start for Tennessee’s offense
“We made shots. I mean, there’s no doubt about it. Obviously, I’ve always said making shots makes up for a multitude of sins. We played really good basketball tonight. I think, again, our team, great respect for Mississippi State. Coach (Chris) Jans does an unbelievable job. They play hard. You watch them on tape, they mix defenses. Really work hard to try to keep you out of rhythm. We got some rhythm going and our guards made some shots. We got a little bit there where I thought we were looking for the (3-point shot), but our post guy did a really good job of fighting for space and we moved the ball. They switched defenses. And our guards got the ball where they needed to get it when they needed to get it there. Obviously you come into a game like this, you score the way you don’t expect it. But our guys, we played well. We really played good basketball tonight. Assisted on a lot of our field goals. And again, when you make the shots that we were making, it takes some pressure off obviously.”
On Zakai Zeigler’s performance running the offense
He was really good. You look at it, 10 assists, two turnovers. He was really good. Thought he saw the floor well. Thought he was really smooth in terms of when the inside-out passes came to him. Obviously it’s good when you see guys that, you need to see them making shots, make them. But I thought his command of what we needed to do was maybe as good as it’s ever been. We had to be good to execute, the way they play and what they make you do. For him to do what he does on the defensive end, then play the kind of floor game he played on the offensive end, is pretty impressive.”
On getting Josiah-Jordan James back and the process leading to it
“We knew tonight we were going to limit him to a certain amount of minutes. Wanted to keep him under 20, 18, something around there. Anywhere between 15-20, really. What we didn’t want was for him to be on the floor for long runs. Six, seven minutes at a time. But he has worked hard. It’s been a trying time for him. But he’s handled it the way you would expect him to. Chad (Newman) and Garrett (Medenwald) doing their part, with our medical team, I know that we’ve tried to help him get the very best medical attention he can get. But he’s had to work hard, when you’ve done what he’s done since he’s been here, and have to go through this. You can tell he’s been different. When he came back even early in the year, when he played against I think Colorado, we knew in practice he wasn’t the same guy. The last couple days, since he’s been in practice, he’s been the Josiah we know he can be. And he affects the game. He and Santi really have a cohesiveness about them when they’re on the court together. They see things that makes it easier for everybody. The thing we’ll have to keep working with him is his cardio. It will be more difficult than people might think because we won’t try or expect him to go through a full practice yet. We’ll monitor him through practice, throughout. Because there’s a lot of basketball left and we want him to be at his best once we get deeper into the season.”
On if Josiah has been able to play multiple days in a row without knee pain
“He feels great the last couple days. He’s just moving the way that we know he can move. But again, he’s a player I’ve talked about. Really good players affect the game even when they’re not making shots. We know he can shoot. He really can. That’s the one thing, I think him being out, he’s continued to be able to do that. But it’s his hands. He has elite hands. He gets his hands on so many different balls that he just breaks loose. Defensively, he can guard any spot on the floor when he needs to. It’s again, just getting him back and, as much as I like to have him out there, as much as he’s always been, we have to be smart with it.”
On the importance of Santiago Vescovi breaking out of his shooting slump
“I think the biggest thing in trying to talk to the team, every game is a different game. I asked the other night, why we maybe haven’t been as consistent on the offensive end. I am not sure players understand that. Every game is different. This game was a totally different game in terms of Ole Miss changed defenses. They don’t have as many defenses as we saw tonight. Players have to be able to do that. That is the one thing I will tell you, we as a staff were really pleased with how our guys handled with what we worked on. We had to learn how to play against teams that switch one through five and one through four. Those teams are really trying to keep you out of rhythm. I thought our guys really did a lot of good things. Maybe with the exception of one or two shots that were rushed. I think Santi got one blocked. He has got to know people are going to come at him. He is good at what he does, obviously. Again, when you have guys like Josiah, he is big in games like this. He has been around and he sees it. Our guards, Julian made a couple of terrific passes to our post guys. They were doing a good job stepping in on those switches, catching the ball on some really good passes delivered there. They finished shots tonight, which is as important as these guys making perimeter shots. Santi, like Jo and Zakai, Jahmai, I do think Julian is getting there. I do think guys that can impact the game whether they are scoring or not, they find a way to help you win. Santi does that every night.”
On Julian Phillips bouncing back from a poor stretch
“I think it important obviously because he can shoot the ball. I think the biggest thing — and I told him after the Ole Miss game, we don’t want to have a team where sometimes you have to play offense, defense — if I were a player, I wouldn’t like that. In the Ole Miss game, he gave up a big duck-in at a critical time. We had to keep Jahmai in the game there. Since then, he has had some great practices where he has really locked in. You can see that he is putting the kind of effort in that he is going to need to on the offensive end. Tonight, a player you would put into that category every if he doesn’t make shots, if he does what he does tonight, he will impact games. He was rebounding, did a great job getting to the glass. He can shoot it. I think the fact the three finally went in helped him with it. He can score at all levels. But being a young player that he is, most young guys and players until they reach a maturity standpoint, everything is offense and if they are not shooting the ball, they kind of let the other parts of the game get away from them. You start putting all your thoughts on I have to score, I have to score, it normally doesn’t turn out well. If you get lost defensively, which I thought he has the last couple days, I am not surprised that he was much smoother on the offensive end tonight.”
On post play defending Mississippi State star Tolu Smith
“We knew we have got a committee that we think we can do it. You have to give him a lot of credit. He gets deep post-ups. We allowed him to catch it from the top. We can’t allow the ball to come in from the top the way we did. They do a really good job of knowing what they want to do with the ball. They worked it. He works hard in there. He is very difficult to guard. Overall, we had to go start doubling a little bit. We needed to because he was starting to get done down there what he normally gets done.”
On the balanced offensive performance
“I know when you think about offense and I do think we have guys that can shoot the ball. I have seen great players go through shooting slumps and things like that. When we start getting everyone back together, I do think we’ll get in a rhythm. I think if we can get the minutes down, you have guys that play as hard as some of our guys do defensively, they are getting up around the 30, 32, 33 minutes, it is hard to be a good offensive player. The one thing I will say about our guys, especially the perimeter players, they haven’t taken many nights off on defense. They are working their tails off to do that for us. That is where we have started it and we want to be a terrific defensive team. Then those guys, when our post guys aren’t getting much done inside, you start playing through the guards, it puts a lot of pressure on them, especially when they continue to play defense the way they have to and wanting them to make some shots. We have got guys where if we move the ball like we did tonight and get our feet set and take care of the basketball, we will find a way.”