Tennessee basketball was undermanned but handled SEC foe Arkansas with ease Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols jumped out to an early lead and coasted to a blowout victory over Arkansas.
Here’s everything Barnes said after the Vols’ final home victory of the season.
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Tennessee SID Tom Satkowiak: “We do expect that Tyreke Key will be available at Auburn on Saturday. And beyond a left knee injury for Zakai, we don’t have a further update tonight. We need time to do a scan.”
On what it says about this Tennessee team to respond the way it did after the Zakai Zeigler injury
“Really proud of them. We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity this month, we really have. We thought we were getting rolling then things come up. I think because of that, I said it I think the last game or the game before, this team has shown a lot of resiliency. They really have. I don’t think at any point in time they stopped believing in whatever guys we have available, they’re going to find a way to grind it out. Really proud of the fact that Julian (Phillips) came back tonight, wasn’t sure. It’s always hard when you’re out like that. And Josiah (Jordan James) coming back again, where he played a lot of minutes. But every guy that played tonight did a terrific job. The front line, they did exactly what we needed them to do. Arkansas is a really difficult team to guard. They put great pressure on the rim. And they defend. They do a great job, analytically, of trying to force guys to their weaknesses and do a great job defending the 3-point line. But we just felt like we needed to stay aggressive, like we had been playing. Just proud. Again, we all hurt for Zakai. We know that he’s hurt. For him to stay down, he’s hurt. We all felt that. But yet, the maturity of our senior class, I think took over the game. This is what we’ve got, we’ve got to go do it.”
On Santiago Vescovi running point guard after Zakai Zeigler was injured
“They were working him pretty much all night long. They were really trying to take away his left hand and putting pressure on him. But you know, I thought he got himself in a little bit of trouble a few times. But I thought Jahmai Mashack handled the ball (well), Julian, Josiah, all those guys. We’ve talked about that, when those guys get the ball, let’s not put so much pressure on one guy to handle it, let’s bring it down the court and get started. We knew we had to continue to move because if you get stagnant against Arkansas, they’re already tough enough to play against, but you get stagnant, they’re really difficult to play against. I thought our movement was good. Defensively, the discipline that we showed for the most part, for what we felt like we had to do on the defensive end, was good.”
On if the team had a ‘refuse to lose’ mindset after Zakai Zeigler went down
“I don’t know if that were the case. I just know that they know (Zeigler) like I know him, that if he stayed down, he’s hurt. I know that they know. They know that he pops right back up every single time when he goes down. I think they knew it was serious, I do. But I think the focus, the emotion, didn’t change. I thought they had a great demeanor about themselves. I think we’ve had a great demeanor for all the games this year, in terms of our preparation, practice, getting ready. Today, our senior day, you kind of get out of rhythm a little bit because of the things you do on senior day. But our seniors, they’ve been through a lot. Like I said, we felt like all year whatever we had to go into a game with, we can find a way. Because we truly believe in our defense and our rebounding, that if we can do that, as painful as it is scoring, which every team in the country goes through that — everybody acts like it’s just us here, because you guys cover us — teams struggle to score. The one consistent thing we’ve done for the most part is defend and rebound. Hopefully we’ll keep finding a way to score enough points to win games.”
On Julian Phillips returning to the lineup
“I am really proud of both of them (Phillips and James) because both of them aren’t totally 100%. I think it just shows you their toughness that they are willing to do whatever they have to do right now this time of year whether it is two minutes or however many minutes Julian played. I think it is great that he and Josiah — because I don’t think we thought that would happy, I don’t think we thought they would be able to come out. Both of them got tired a little bit tonight. We know these guys. Both of them are mentally tough. They fought through it. Timeouts came at a good time for us a couple different times. The more they get back into it now, the more they will get their rhythm back.”
On the plan at point guard if Zakai is out extensively
“I did. I went in at halftime after I got done taking to the team. He is such an unbelievable, wonderful person. He had been crying as you would imagine. He was hurt. It is tough. The tough thing Tom (Satkowiak) told me tonight. He tied Kennedy (Chandler) last year for the same amount of assists that Kennedy had a year ago. It is just the way he has grown as a point guard and a leader. I thought Jahmai Mashack did a good job tonight handling the ball for us when he was in there. Obviously, we won’t rely on one person to do it as much, which is fine. We will get Tyreke (Key) back. We need him to get back. We know what he is capable of. We will do it I guess by committee if that is how you look at it but we have always kind of done that the last couple years.”
On Tobe Awaka and Jonas Aidoo development
“They both have improved tremendously. Tobe, his rebounding is special. He makes a great effort to go get it. Jonas’ length. We thought it was going to be a big game for Jonas because we knew that we had to be really good in ball-screen coverage. There have been times this year when he has gotten hurt with that. I thought tonight that he did a really good job with it. We often have him playing a different coverage than the other bigs when they come up there. When we asked him to go out tonight, we tried to double a few times. Uros (Plavsic) came in and did a good job with that when he got settled down and Tobe. Jonas continues to learn to play quicker around the basket as Tobe, I think he is going to get that much better. I thought O had great disposition about himself the last couple of games. We need him to continue that.”
On Jahmai Mashack’s growth to be able to play point guard effectively
“He’s taken advantage of the situation. You go back to our big wins. He’s been a big part of them. I think he would tell you that when Josiah came back, he thought mentally he was going to have to change, but he didn’t have to. He kind of checked out a little bit, but I told him, ‘You can’t do that. You’ve earned the right to stay out here play. You can’t do that. There’s enough minutes for everybody. You’re versatile, you can play a lot of different positions and you bring an element to our team that we desperately need. A guy that can take great pride in’ — he does so many things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. He really does. He sees the court well and he’s going to continue to get better and better offensively. He’s a big part of who we are right now and we need him desperately. He’s come a long way. He has. You can see it. He’s confident. You can see it in his preparation now. He knows he belongs out there and it’s just a matter of him continuing to get better.”
On how much Jahmai Mashack and Santiago Vescovi have practiced playing point guard
“They all have. You think about it, Josiah and Santi were our point guards four years ago. They played it. Josiah, when he first came in, did that as much as anybody because we needed him to do it along with Jordan Bowden at that point in time I think. He had one more year with those guys. They all do it. They know what we do. Those guys have really good basketball IQ, they know what our offense is looking for. We’ve always told them, the more positions you can now from an execution standpoint is going to give you more of a chance to play.
“I’m not going to count out BJ Edwards either. He’s a guy that — you talk about the improvement of those big guys. He’s improved tremendously here in the last month. I’m sure we’ll need him going forward too.”
On how much the plan changed once he realized Zakai Zeigler wasn’t coming back in the game
“In my mind, it didn’t change the plan so much. I knew that Santi was going to have to carry a pretty heavy load, but we knew Jahmai couldn’t get it down the floor. We didn’t run as much as we probably would have liked to ran tonight, but they had a lot to do with it. They’re a terrific transition defensive team. They don’t give you anything. They don’t. They do a great job of getting back and making you play against their defense. But because of what we’ve gone through, guys have had to adjust roles here and there. I just think they have a confidence about themselves that regardless of what comes our way, we’re going to find a way to work through it.”