Tennessee trailed by as many as nine points in the first half before using a second half explosion to win at Mississippi State, 70-59, Tuesday night.
The Vols were terrible for the first 14 minutes of the game, scoring just 10 points while coughing up countless turnovers. Then, Zakai Zeigler flipped the script, Julian Phillips found his rhythm and the Vols offense exploded in the second half.
Here’s everything eighth-year Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said about the Vols’ win over Mississippi State.
More From RTI: Three Quick Takeaways On Tennessee’s Win At Mississippi State
On the come from behind win
“One, I would say this. That is a great character win for our team. The fact that we had two starters out and starting the game with a lineup that I promise you they have never practiced together. Josiah-(Jordan James) wasn’t whatever. That was a team that we had talked about, at times, having a group like that, but they didn’t. I thought after the eight-minute mark, I thought Zakai (Zeigler) really settled down and played terrific basketball. To go 40 minutes the way he did. Coming off, he got aggressive. The way we ended the first half was huge, that we were able to tie the game back up right there. We told our team and I think our team coming in, they had great respect for Mississippi State because other than our game, which you guys know that night we probably could have beaten anybody in the country, they have been in every game. A free throw here. A 3-pointer there. Our guys knew it was going to be a battle. I thought they played their hearts out tonight. Once we settled in, too many turnovers. Julian (Phillips) had a great night. We told him he was going to have to get more aggressive. He did. Our post guys, nine blocks. Huge. The fact that Zakai went 40 minutes — and Josiah, you can’t say enough about him being out there. He got tired. I thought he really showed some great cardio toughness. He really did. We started making some shots in the second half. It was the kind of game we expected it to be, a hard-fought game. And it was.”
On what he learned about Julian Phillips in the second half
“We have told him that when he is aggressive and doing what he can do, we have told him, we have said you have to get aggressive. You have to shoot the ball. He is rebounding the ball. He is still learning how to play defense the way he knows he needs to. We need him to be a guy out there. I thought early in the game when we were turning the ball over, we were putting it all on Zakai where we turned down some shots. I finally told them I would rather shoot 10 long threes than turn the ball over. I said shoot it and let’s go get it. Julian, he worked. He scored at about every level you can score, the way he attacked and went at it tonight. I thought Olivier (Nkamhoua) came back and bounced back. His rebounds. Our post guys. Nine blocks at a team that you know they are going at the rim every chance they get. Really, just a great team win for us.”
On what changed for Zakai Zeigler
“I think we had to throttle back. We knew coming back that we were going to be down 10 fouls in the backcourt. We had one point guard. The other two guys who really play it — even though we really look at Jo as being a point forward, a guy that can handle the ball, if necessary. We knew Zakai was going to have to play a lot of minutes. We told him you can’t get in foul trouble. He has a hard time doing that, backing up. His instincts, he wants to go play 94 feet. He wants to be aggressive. We are in a really contain, tight defense. Early in the game, we did make too many scouting report mistakes. Back cut on out of bounds plays when we never do that. Leaving our feet. Not staying in front of drivers and things like that. We settled in. I thought as the game continued on, I thought we really, the guys that were settled in that were playing had great communication. They started talking on the court. You could tell they were locked in against a team that they are working hard. When you back off somebody that has the wiggle that some of their guards have, it is hard to guard. Whereas he normally wants to get up to them because he likes it when people back off him. He can do some stuff, too. The fact that he got going offensively. We told him, you come off these ball screens or you come off these money sets, you have to shoot it. I thought that once he started doing that, everyone else fed off his confidence.”
On how long he’s been challenging Phillips to be more aggressive
“All the time. We want him to do it. He’s got to. You go back, early in the year, he was getting fouled. He got to the free-throw line how many times tonight? Four. He was getting there what, about five times (a game) early (in the season). Got back to doing it. The fact that this is his first career double-double, five offensive rebounds. He had five turnovers but you know what, I think for the most part, other than a couple passes, they were aggressive turnovers, when he was trying to be aggressive.”
On how valuable it is to have each of Phillips and Josiah-Jordan James on the floor together
“I think it’s important because Jo talks. Jo, again, I as impressed with him as anybody, to go from I don’t know if he’s played 20 minutes in, what, a year maybe. And to go out tonight and grind through. I told him hey, I’ll get you some rest and you tell me. I could tell he was tired, but again, his cardio, his toughness, that’s him. We talked about before the game that if we’re the team we say we are, if we’re the program we say we are, this is going to be a character game and we’re going to see if we can answer the bell. Because we know the respect we have for Mississippi State and they were going to bring it. They came hard. It was really a big win for us.”
On what he learned about Tennessee in the win
“I think Jo said it. He said we’ve been trained, we’ve been taught, next man up, whoever it might be. I don’t think you go into any game thinking you’re going to be without two starters. And it goes back to what I said all along. I don’t know if it matters who starts, it matters who can finish and get out there. The fact of the matter is, I would say I think you guys know we’ve got seven guys that you would consider starters. But what it makes us do now, we’ll keep talking about our lineup. I’ve never been opposed to changing lineups to get the right guys out there. But really proud of our post guys. Jonas, how many blocks did he have tonight? He had a key one down there. Jonas had four blocks. We had a couple of them at the rim, Julian. Those were all huge plays.”
On the status of Santiago Vescovi
“He got fouled in the game against Kentucky. They yanked his shoulder. That one loose ball there where he came off the screen. You could see on tape where the guy grabbed him. And that arm that was sore, it reaggravated it. He tried to get ready, he just couldn’t pick it up the way he needed to. Tyreke did go through our shoot around and we thought he was going to play, then once we got back to the hotel he got a temperature and it kept going up. A couple of the coaches have been under the weather a little bit. We showed some great character, we really did. We knew coming in here was going to be a hard game if we had everybody. We knew that, we expected it. And to come away with a win because, again, this team, they’re closer. And Coach Jans does an unbelievable job. I mean, if they could’ve made a three here, a couple free throws there, I can tell you, people don’t look forward to playing (Mississippi State) because they do play hard.”