Tennessee basketball opened up postseason play with a 70-55 victory over Ole Miss Thursday afternoon in Nashville.
The Vols’ seniors played fantastic in the win combining for 49 of Tennessee’s 70 points. Josiah-Jordan James led the way with 20 points while Santiago Vescovi added 15 points.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes discussed the play of his seniors, the Vols’ careless turnovers and much more.
Here’s everything Barnes had to say.
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“Again, congratulations to Ole Miss for the job they’ve done the last couple weeks this season with the transition that happened there. I thought that staff did a terrific job of keeping those guys playing hard and connected, playing good basketball.
The start of this game they were relaxed and really making some shots. We got a little bit slow getting going. But I thought the second half we were able to pick our intensity up a little bit on the defensive end. We turned it over too much. We’ve got to take care of the ball better.
Overall, good first time out here in the tournament.”
On what the difference was defensively in the first 15 and 25 minutes
“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.”
On how important is it that your seniors at this time of year show up and deliver?
“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.”
On Alabama being a national story this year on and off the court. At Tennessee, do you guys have a gun policy on your team?
“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.”
On the turnovers being natural without Zakai or if they are fixable
“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.”
On how confident he is feeling in the offense this time of year and if this is as have a complete performance out there that you haven’t shown yet
“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.”
On preparing for Missouri on short rest
“Same what we do during tournament play. We all start the season out, we pretty much go on 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.”
On what led to the turnover issues
“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.”
On the challenge of defending Missouri’s backcourt
“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.”
On Uros Plavsic making a defensive impact
“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.”