COLUMBIA, S.C. — Olivier Nkamhoua has seen enough of Colonial Life Arena.
“I am not coming back here,” Nkamhoua said following the Vols’ splattering of South Carolina.
Nkamhoua left South Carolina last February after suffering a season ending ankle injury. The senior forward leaves it Saturday night, for good, after turning in the best performance of his college career in a, 85-42, beatdown of South Carolina.
“Last year was not the best experience for me coming in here,” Nkamhoua said. “This year was a way better go at it.”
It wasn’t just that Nkamhoua played well after suffering the injury last season. It was that he played nearly flawless minus a pair of turnovers he was kicking himself for postgame.
But besides the two turnovers, Nkamhoua couldn’t have been any better offensively. The Helsinki, Finland native didn’t miss. Literally. Nkamhoua made all 10 of his shot attempts on his way to scoring a game-high 21 points.
“Just been taking shots in rhythm, taking them in my spots,” Nkamhoua said of his recent offensive success. “Taking shots that I know I am good at and that I know I work on every day.”
Nkamhoua scored in a variety of ways in Columbia: three-pointers, his go-to 12-foot turnaround and running the floor and finishing thunderous dunks off of sweet Zakai Zeigler passes.
“Tonight, y’all saw it. We were having fun,” Nkamhoua said of his success in transition. “He is making great plays. He is moving the ball. He is putting it where it needs go. That lob to Jonas was great. He gave me two passes back and I got a couple dunks. Z is getting really good at being a facilitator and a point guard.”
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Much like he was last season when he came to South Carolina, Nkamhoua is seemingly turning the corner offensively. The 6-foot-9 power forward has scored eight or more points in Tennessee’s last nine games and is averaging 15 points per game over his last five games.
“When he plays well, is really and truly when he gets locked into doing anything other than thinking about scoring,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “The fact that he’s catching the ball where we want him to catch it. I think knowing your space on the court where you’re most effective and getting to it, he’s certainly been doing that. He certainly did that today.”
While Barnes was happy with Nkamhoua’s offense, he was even more happy with his rebounding. The eighth-year head coach took Nkamhoua to task in the film room after he grabbed only one rebound in Tennessee’s wins over Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
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Nkamhoua totaled 10 rebounds against South Carolina for his third career double-double and his first this season.
“As a staff, we’re really proud of Olivier,” Barnes said. “After the game (against Mississippi State), we’re breaking down film, the one guy that we went at pretty good was (Nkamhoua), the fact that he only had one rebound in 39 minutes over two games. … I’m so happy for him, that it showed up for him today. It just goes to show you that this game gives you what you put into it.”
“My job is to rebound,” Nkamhoua added. “It is not something that should be a surprise to anybody if I get some rebounds. Coach is right to challenge me. I can’t have games back-to-back where I am not rebounding the ball.”
Nkamhoua’s performance was Tennessee’s best in its dominant win at South Carolina. The Vols are 3-0 in SEC play for the first time since 2018-19 and have outscored their last two opponents, 172-93.
With two dominant performances, does Tennessee have to fight complacency?
“We all know who our coach is,” Nkamhoua said. “I think that answers that question.”
Well said by the man of the hour at Colonial Life Arena.