After a victory over 13-seed Ole Miss on Thursday afternoon in the second round of the 2023 SEC Tournament, the five-seed Tennessee Volunteers now have a rematch with four-seed Missouri on the horizon for Friday afternoon.
Tennessee defeated Ole Miss by a score of 70-55 behind a strong 20-point performance from Josiah-Jordan James and a 15-point performance from Santiago Vescovi.
After the game, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes met with the media to discuss his reaction to the game. Barnes spoke about Tennessee’s defensive pressure in the second half compared to the first half and his confidence in the offense heading into this tournament portion of the season.
In addition, Barnes also hit a number of separate topics, including Tennessee’s rematch against Missouri on Friday, the Vols’ gun policy in the wake of the Alabama controversy, and much more.
Check it all out, as well as RTI’s game recap, below:
More from RTI: Tennessee Outlasts Ole Miss In SEC Tournament
Q. What did you see being the difference in the defense in the first 15 minutes and the next 25?
RICK BARNES: Ball pressure. This time of year, often teams will try to get in a possession game. They weren’t looking to really push the ball after made baskets. Sometimes on misses, they did hit us when we turned it over hard. They had, what, 19 points off turnovers. I thought the second half, Uros and Jahmai were the ones that brought the aggression. I thought when we started changing a little bit with our ball screen, I thought Uros did a really good job. Started doubling a little bit, more hard help, doing things like that. Went with a small lineup, started switching everything. We didn’t want them to get the spot-up threes. But I think the zone helped us early. I think the zone probably broke a little bit of rhythm. They were in a pretty good rhythm to start the game. But they’ve been good. I mean, you go back and look at their games over the last couple weeks, they’ve been in every basketball game. But I thought the zone helped us break a little rhythm, then we came out more aggressive I thought, better ball pressure, better ball screen coverage in the second half.
Q. How important is it that your seniors at this time of year show up and deliver?
RICK BARNES: They have to. I mean, Jo is right, it’s on them to do it. With all that we’ve been through this year, they’ve seen it. Different games we have the games take on different personalities. We’ve found a way to do it. We’ve got to defend. We did in the second half. I thought we got back to being more physical, getting out and getting through passing lanes. Santi, again, did a great job with what he does, just trying to disrupt offenses. Our seniors, this time of year, it should be their time of year.
Q. Alabama has been a national story this year on and off the court. At Tennessee, do you guys have a gun policy on your team?
RICK BARNES: University has a Code of Conduct policy. No weapons allowed on campus. But as a team, that is our rule, too, no one on the team. Two things that we have. One of them is that you can never, ever do anything domestically against a female. You can never carry a firearm as a team rule. But the university also has that policy in place.
Q. With the turnovers, how much of that is just naturally going to happen as y’all adjust to playing without Zakai? How much of that is fixable?
RICK BARNES: It’s all fixable. Some of the ones we had were ridiculous, to be quite frank. Baffled by some of them. It’s fixable. You look at them, I mean, sometimes you got to give the other team credit for turning you over. But when you’re throwing the ball in a passing lane when you know someone’s being denied, those are all fixable if you understand the value of the ball. Jo used the word ‘disciplined’ enough to take care of the basketball.
Q. How confident are you feeling in the offense this time of year? Do you feel like you still have a complete performance out there that you haven’t shown yet?
RICK BARNES: I think we can still get better. I mean, defensively I want to see us play defense, rebound. From our point, when we go back and grade this game out, I’m sure we’ve hit a lot of our team goals that we would like to have obviously. But offensively, I mean, you think about it. Again, 19 points off turnovers. That can’t happen. I mean, if we’re the defensive team that we want to be and should be, we’ve got to make people play against it. You can’t give ’em the ball and give ’em a chance to get out in transition. There’s no defense for that. The best defense we can have right there is take care of the ball. For us moving forward, the best defense we can have is taking care of the ball, not allow people get out and score 19 points in transition.
Q. You spoke to your defense, last time you met these Missouri Tigers, they puts up 86, with 24 hours to prepare. What is your mindset?
RICK BARNES: Same what we do during tournament play. We all start the season out, we pretty much go o one-day preps. The way we do it, got a ballroom, do what we always do, watch tape, scout, the game is being scouted. We’ll get the guys in there and go from there.
Q. From where you were watching, was it just lack of sharpness on some of the turnovers, focus? Guys zigging when other guys were zagging?
RICK BARNES: That’s a good term. Some were zigging, some were zagging. That’s the best way I can tell you. We had a back screen, beach ball kind of pass. The ones out front, I mean, there’s no defense for that. Those are careless turnovers. Again, Jo used the term ‘disciplined’. I think that’s the right word. And understanding the value of the ball this time of the year. Early in the year you would expect that. Some of the ones we had tonight you can’t have, especially from older players, this time of year.
Q. Back to the Missouri game. I think 73 of their points were from their backcourt. What has to change specifically on the perimeter? How difficult is that?
RICK BARNES: They played a great game. There’s no doubt. They played well against us. Again, we got back in it. They made a great shot at the end to beat us. A tough shot. They did it. We’ll need everybody. Again, a game like this, they play defense different. One of the best teams in the country at turning you over, getting steals. Again, it’s understanding taking care of the basketball. It’s going to be really important. Not let ’em get out in transition with turnovers. Then obviously, their guards get going downhill, they drive the ball hard. They’re going to make you pay if you turn it over. That’s what I can tell you. But I tell you, I think most good teams do do that.
Q. You talked about Uros being responsible for the defensive intensity the second half. How was he able to do that? How important is that going forward?
RICK BARNES: It is. I mean, his length, obviously. He understands. He’s a guy that does a good job with pressure release on offense. But defensively inside, physicality in there, not giving deep post-up position. Rebounding the ball. He made the effort there. Really the fact that he was getting away from the basket, not just laying back, but he exerted himself on some ball screen situations, which I thought was really good because, again, it kept them out of rhythm coming off some of their ball screen actions.