Tennessee basketball took out some of its February frustrations on South Carolina Saturday night, dominating the Gamecocks 85-45 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols never trailed in the lopsided victory while Josiah-Jordan James made his return to the lineup and led Tennessee in scoring.
Here’s everything Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said after a dominant showing.
More From RTI: Three Quick Takeaways As Tennessee Eviscerates South Carolina
On getting Josiah-Jordan James back on the floor
“Really we’re all happy for Josiah. We know what he means to the program. He dealt with a lot. He came back to practice after we got back from A&M and probably did more than we thought, but he wanted to do it. Today, he was terrific. And his presence has such a major impact on our team because he’s been in so many big opportunities, big-game situations. I think his presence takes a lot of pressure off of guys. He gives his teammates a comfort. I thought when he came on the floor tonight in the first half he was obviously terrific. I thought he played with great poise and pace. He got a little tired, but I kept telling him hey, I’ll let you tell me. When I took him out there at the end, he said what do you think? I said I think you’ve had enough. Because we know we’re going to continue to need him down the stretch. His presence makes huge difference.”
On coming out and playing well from the start after losing four of the last five games
“This group of guys, they’ve been very resilient. We’re always disappointed when we don’t win. We’re disappointed sometimes when we win and don’t play well. These guys, they care about each other. Every team in the country goes through the ups and downs. I would just say that these guys have embraced each other in a great way. And at no point in time during this they have not gone to practice hard, not been locked in on what we’re trying to do. One thing we’ve been talked about all year, being more disciplined defensively by not fouling. I thought tonight this was one of the first games, I don’t know if there has been, neither team got to the bonus. But I thought both teams played really hard. We’ve talked about not fouling people. Then obviously the turnovers. Only four turnovers. I’d like our guys to if we take care of the ball, get open shots, we’ve got a chance to be the offensive team that I think they know we might be, and what we think (we might be).”
On Josiah-Jordan James handled another stretch of missing games due to injury and how Zakai Zeigler shouldered the load this season
“You think about it, (Zakai Zeigler is) the one guy that has to shoulder the load. One of the core guys. He hasn’t missed. There’s no doubt that he’s getting game-planned for every night. He and Santi (Vescovi) and Z (Zakai Zeigler). I think he (Zeigler) has handled it great. ‘Z’, no doubt about it, he’s felt the weight of the world on his shoulders at times. That’s why it’s important as a team everyone understands collectively what they have to do, the roles we need them to play. And not feel like we have to put everything on him at times. There’s no doubt he’s highly competitive. One of his biggest flaws is when he makes a mistake, he wants to fix it right then and right there. Sometimes that can compound it. He’s grown up in so many different ways. He came here as a guy that was not considered a point guard. But he’s learning how to play, how to manage a team and run a team. But he’s done a really terrific job with a lot being placed on his shoulders.”
On what he needs to see from Julian Phillips for him to return
“That is their decision. When we left yesterday, we weren’t sure. Josiah told me point blank I am playing. He told me that after the A&M game. He was going to work his way back into practice. He said I am going to play something even if it is only five minutes. Whatever I have to do to help these guys, I am willing to do it. He said again I don’t think he thinks in his mind he is back to playing 25 or 28 minutes yet. But he said that doesn’t matter. If you need me for five minutes or two minutes or three minutes, I will be ready. Then Julian went through it. Tyreke, Tyreke’s deal, we didn’t know anything about it until right before game time. His ankle really blew up on him. He is not even sure why. He doesn’t know what happened with it. Julian goes through shootaround. He knows it. A hip flexor is a problem. He is trying to do what he has to do with it certainly. Tyreke. We weren’t sure. That is what I told you guys. It would all be a game-time decision. I know Josiah was sore yesterday after what he did the day before. It wasn’t just the injury. It was probably his body going at the pace he had to go through. That is older guys can work through it.”
On what South Carolina coach Lamont Paris is doing well
“Well, when I went back and watched our game a couple times coming into here, they played really hard in Columbia early in the year. He is down a player. When you are down players, even as a group, obviously we have been established longer and we think through these injuries we watched Jahmai Mashack get better. We watched BJ Edwards. Those guys might not have gotten the minutes they are getting right now, which is going to help us this year, the rest of the year and moving forward. He doesn’t have that margin of error. That is why every game when you are fighting to build a program and they are scratching and clawing and trying to get everything in place, Lamont has done a great job. His team, we have had a tough couple weeks here. Some teams have had to fight and claw from the very beginning and when they continue to play hard and improve, I think it is a tremendous compliment to the players, the coaching staff and everyone involved. Again, when we broke them down with our team last night and actually started two days ago, that is the thing we talked about. These guys are going to come play. Forget their record. They just took the No. 1 team in the country to overtime and had a chance to win it. A couple calls here or there go their way, they do win the game. That, to me, is the ultimate compliment to Lamont and his staff that they are doing that here with three games to go in the regular season. He did a great job obviously at Chattanooga. He will build a program there and it will be exactly what he wants to do. You have to be impressed with what he has done with this group.”
On what Uros Plavsic did well
“Again, early in the game, we were concerned about that matchup with Jonas (Aidoo) getting pushed around and shoved underneath. We told him, we said your defense starts when the shot goes up. Early in the game, he was getting shoved underneath the basket. There was nothing illegal about it. There was not a foul there. But that is where he has to get — he was not as effective the other night. There is no doubt. You look at the scouting report on him. Teams that have big, strong guys are going right at him. That is where he is going to have to get his hands up and understand he is going to have to get better leverage. I thought he came back. I thought he fought back. Every minute he plays against guys physical, he is going to have to understand what he is going to have to do to be effective against them. (Uros) came back and made some good plays. He finished playing a good game for us.”
“I was thinking about his fouls. He did get fouled at the end of the first half. That was a push, but the other ones were not. So I had a nice little talk with the referees there but I thought those guys did a good job. I loved the fact that the midrange game, I think the midrange game needs to be officiated like the three-point line because there’s a lot of teams that believe in the midrange game and if you’re going to call allowing players to come down out there the same thing has to be true inside the three-point line.”
On what this team is like to coach when they struggle
“I don’t think I would ever use the word frustrated with them. I would say, like I said, when you have expectations of winning every game you’re always going to be disappointed even when you think about it this year, we’ve had a tough February yet we’ve had chances to win every single one of those games probably with the exception of one where I didn’t think we were very good, and I think this group has been real with each other, transparent. I think they’ve shown resiliency because the one thing they haven’t done is stop working. Our practices, you guys see them, they’re going to compete and do that. This time of year we do taper back but we expect the intensity and the effort to be there every day regardless of it’s an hour, hour-10, whatever. 50 minutes. Whatever it may be. They’ve done that. I think they’re a very unselfish group of guys. They pull for each other. Tobe has been out there playing more than Uros, he (Uros) stayed ready and affected the game early but as a group of guys, I think any coach in America would like to coach these guys.”
On Tennessee’s physicality affecting South Carolina
“Well, it’s who we are and it’s not just our post players. Our guards are physical in terms of trying to fight through cuts, screens. Lamont’s teams do a good job with the ball screen. They get there tight, they really snake, wiggle in there. And I will say this. By the numbers, we’re supposed to be a pretty good ball-screen team, but it gets harder. Everything gets harder this time of year because teams have been doing a lot of repetition work and they’re good at what they do. Our guards and our post players, we expect those guys to be physical, but I think sometimes it gets lost that our perimeter defense is pretty physical, too. The thing we’ve talked about is doing it without fouling and reaching. We talk so much about not slapping down. We want to deflect it, but we’ve had too many — I said it the other night. We can’t foul three-point shooters in games like we’re going to be in from here on out, or any time really. We’ve got to be more discipline in there to keep that physicality up.”
On walk-on Isaiah Sulack’s three-point play at the end of the game
“Well, Isaiah has been a great part of our program and his concussion that he had. I saw it. When it happened, he went down to get a loose ball and Santi (Vescovi) was coming to it and Santi’s knee was bent and he got hit (right under the eye) as hard as someone could be hit. The perfect storm came together. What he had to go through makes you realize that the concussion protocol that he went through here and how serious it is because he’s a competitive player. We actually, last week, we had he and BJ ready to play. We told them both. At A&M, we had Isaiah ready because we weren’t sure what was going to happen there.
“We watch them and I asked BJ one day if he was ready to play, and he said, ‘Coach, when you guard Zakai Zeigler everyday, you’re ready to play.’ Same thing with Isaiah. He said ‘when you have to guard Santi everyday you’re ready to play and Isaiah is a good offensive player. He really is. He has grown a lot in so many different areas. Obviously you can tell the respect our team has for the walk-ons and the job they do. Even though by name they’re a walk-on, they’re a huge part and we treat them just like they’re a scholarship player. We truly expect them to have a voice in our program.”
On how Olivier Nkamhoua and Uros Plavsic can find consistency
“Staying locked in, understanding exactly what we need night in and night out. Knowing that they’re going to give it to us. That’s the word (consistency). They know it. It’s all about this time of year, because you all know as well as I do, you have to be able to go in there and get some of those baskets from those players. We need them. We need them to do it.”