No. 10 Tennessee ended its two-game losing skid by knocking off No. 1 Alabama 68-59 in front of a sold out Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols led for the vast majority of the game but struggled to gain massive separation until the game’s final seconds.
Barnes discussed Tennessee’s elite defensive night, Jahmai Mashack’s defensive outing and much more.
Here’s everything Barnes said after a marquee victory.
More From RTI: Three Quick Takeaways As Tennessee Outlasts No. 1 Alabama
On what that win says about the Tennessee program after the last two weeks
“One, I can’t tell you how proud I am of the effort our guys put in the game for 40 minutes defensively. Because we won a game against a, really, No. 1 deserved ranking by Alabama. They’ve done a great job. Nate (Oats) has done a great job with his group of guys. But the fact that, again, for 40 minutes I thought we played really hard the other night (against Missouri). Lost the game. But the one thing I can say, I don’t think these guys have ever come disconnected. Coaching staff did a terrific job, exactly how we wanted to play. Ball screens on the side, what we needed to do in the middle. Just some incredible defensive intensity and effort by a lot of guys. It wasn’t one guy that went in that game tonight that didn’t help us win this game. Not one guy. Just really proud of the effort. And I can tell you, and you guys might think I’m crazy, after those tough losses, these guys stayed with it. They didn’t splinter. They stayed together. They knew other guys had to step up tonight and Jahmai Mashack was terrific defensively — Jonas (Aidoo), Santi (Vescovi). You look at Santi and Z’s (Zakai Zeigler’s) numbers, they were outstanding. But when plays needed to be made, players made plays.”
On remaining upbeat after the loss to Missouri on Saturday
“I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve seen a lot of things. And what they did Saturday, we played against a team that we guarded, they made some terrific shots. Had a chance, obviously, to seal it before that shot, but we didn’t. But you know what, I told them I was extremely proud of the effort and if we’ll continue to do that, we’ll find a way. And I said hey, it’s about us, as long as we’ll stay together. It was just an incredible effort in the way they fought and they did tonight. Really, it’s what we’re going to have to do from here on out. Because you look at our schedule, it’s pretty back-loaded heavy. But just really proud of the incredible defensive effort. And offensively, we found a way. Weren’t great there by any stretch of the imagination. But we had the same idea. Play defense, rebound, we’ll find a way to hopefully score enough points.”
On how this Tennessee team didn’t splinter after recent losses and what it means moving forward
“I think it’s the quality of players we recruit. I think the fact that there’s a foundation there. I think the effort that goes in every day with our assistant coaches, our GAs, our support people. These guys know how much we care about them. They know it’s tough at times. I obviously can be tough with them. I do know that they love this program and they’ve taken great pride in the work they’ve put into it. I just think it speaks volumes about their character as individuals. The fact that they really do care about each other and are willing to go at it in practice, then game time comes around. It’s been an up and down ride because of injuries, this that or whatever, but a lot of basketball left to be played and this is where we need to grow and get better.”
On what Jonas Aidoo gave Tennessee with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks
“Defensively, we told our guys before the game every player they put on the floor is a guard. We’ve been working on it for a month with our guards, with our post guys. We start every shell drill with our post guys guarding guards. Because we said hey, you guys are going to have to learn to not just run back to the lane and work your way out, we need to get you guys involved in transition because there are cross matches and things going on. I said we’ve all got to learn to guard anybody in one possession for transition. Tonight I thought, for the most part, we had a couple early where they were, and I’m talking a foot, I mean that’s all a team like Alabama needs to get a look, guys that can shoot the ball. But I think our post guys’ defense was outstanding, pushing out there. Then both teams at the end, you guys saw it, were all trying to get downhill, trying to drive, create. Something to get to the free-throw line. But again, just everyone defensively I thought stayed locked into what we needed to do on the defensive end.”
On Tennessee’s approach in defending Brandon Miller
“Well, obviously he’s just an outstanding player and wonderful person. We knew that we couldn’t give him a lot of room. Watching him play, he doesn’t need much room. He sees a little bit of daylight. He gets the ball really from his shoulder, high up, quick. And he’s long. He can create. He doesn’t need much space. We knew that we were going to spend a lot of time with Jahmai guarding him. But when he went out of the game, we would’ve probably started the second half on him. But with Santi having two fouls, we didn’t feel like we could do that, because we felt Nate does such a great job managing the game for them, trying to get him going. So Tyreke started there in the second half and I thought did a good job. It was everybody. We started switching some, trying to change the ball-screen coverage because they’re so good at it. Because their guards are so good, if you just keep showing them the same thing, they’ll start picking it apart. Again, it was a lot of guys that had to go into it. I don’t think one guy shut him down. It was a team effort. And again, it’s not like we shut him down. He got some looks of shots that he can make, so he had some looks. We didn’t shut him down because we didn’t do that.”
On Jahmai Mashack having the highest plus/minus despite not scoring a point
“We keep telling our guys that they have to find a way to impact the game without scoring a point because everybody wants to score, they do. The more he is out there, the more he’s going to figure that side of it out. But the intangibles that he brings, you gotta have it on the court. You gotta have it. He’s, as you know, will solidly be in the lineup because of what he does. I told him the other day after the game Saturday, I said, ‘From this point on, you’re not taking a backseat to anybody.’ I said, ‘You’re out there competing and I expect you to go out there and play like these other guys. You don’t have to play perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ve got to continue to bring what you bring everyday because this team needs it’ and he was even better today than he was Saturday.”
On how he feels Jonas Aidoo has handled the last week with starting two games
“Well, yesterday really quick in practice I put him on the second team because Tobe (Awaka) kept getting offensive rebounds. He got going, but Jonas, there’s so much there. I mean there is so much talent there that if we can get him to keep getting better like he is right now, there’s a lot of things he can do. He can shoot the ball, he’s long. We’re not asking him to be as physical as those other three guys basically, but he can shoot it. When he takes those little jumpers, I think they’re all going in because he’s got great hands. He’s got great touch and his length is out there. I was proud of his defense because he normally takes more of a drop-catch, but again, I just think his future is so bright because I’m around him, we’re around him and we just know he’s got a lot in there and we just have to keep getting him to let it go.”
On what about Mashack’s makeup allowed him to trust him guarding someone that is five-inches taller than him (Miller)
“Well, honestly the same with Santi (Vescovi) and Z (Zakai Zeigler), their matchups, whoever. Position, and the fact that we’ve talked to him from day one about that’s gotta be who he is. He’s gotta be that guy. He’s worked hard on his shot. I keep telling him to shoot the ball. I don’t know why he doesn’t want to do it because we’ve worked hard on it this year, but he’s so competitive and he really does get himself wound up, especially on the offensive end where he just wants to put his head down and go. He made a couple of nice plays where he played off two feet and had some nice kick-outs. And they’re a good defensive team now. They make you work for what you get, but he’s a tough, hard-nosed competitor. That’s who he is. He’s not afraid. He’ll battle anybody, but I think some of that is getting here and watching Zakai and Santi do it. He’s one of those guys that gets after it in practice every day.”
On forcing 19 Alabama turnovers
“I can go back to what I said and if you don’t try to guard them, they’re shifty, they’ve got wiggle to them, they’ve got post guys that can shoot it, they’ve got a lot of things, so, if you’re not really locked in, if you expose the rim to them and gets your hips open and open the door, they’re downhill. When they get downhill, they’re great with that pass off the baseline. They read it well because they’re a very heavy ball-screen team and they do a great job of getting to the rim. But it’s all being locked in. They make you guard from really two steps outside the three-point line. If you’re not out there, because they’re confident, they’re going to shoot it and if you get out there and you’re not ready to guard the downhill drive, they’re going to get to the rim and score or spray it.”
On only turning it over eight times
“You’ve got to give credit to our guards. We had some guys that put in a lot of minutes there and they did a good job. At the end, they were really working hard to keep Zakai from getting the ball. Everybody makes it hard on Santi. Those guys have to work. But proud of that because we talk about getting shots up. That’s what I told Jahmai. I said, ‘Man, I’d much rather you shoot a jump shot than turn it over or try to go take a tough, contested shot.’ I felt like Tyreke (Key) tonight, didn’t have a great shooting night. I kept taking him out and saying, ‘You’ve got to shoot it. You’ve got to help Santi, you’ve got to help Z, you’ve got to help those guys.’ I thought the demeanor of those guys on the offensive end was really good.”