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Everything Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee Beat Michigan State In Exhibition Game

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/ Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball defeated No. 4 Michigan State 89-88 in a thriller at the Breslin Center in East Lansing on Sunday afternoon.

The Vols jumped out to a 17-1 lead and withheld Michigan State run after run. When Jordan Gainey hit one-of-two free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining, Tennessee earned the win.

After the game, Barnes discussed the play of Tennessee’s two transfers, what the game told him about his team and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said after the win.

More From RTI: Three Quick Takeaways On Tennessee’s Win Over Michigan State

On his and Tom Izzo’s relationship

“Well, it means a lot to me. Tom is a guy that makes me proud to be in the coaching profession. We met, I was a young assistant at Ohio State. He was here at Michigan State with Judd and he’d come to Columbus, recruit down there, Eli Brewster, for two hours and watch the practice. That point on, we just have developed a friendship and really, I know he’s the kind of guy that if I needed something, I’d call him and ask him and he wouldn’t ask why. He would say, what do you need? But I really appreciate him. I appreciate Michigan State and everybody putting this game on for what’s going on in Maui. But, again, Tom is a guy that he really should be a model for young coaches because the way he’s done it. He’s always, and we’ve recruited against him many times, and some we get, some we don’t. But when you’re involved with him through the years long before the NIL, you knew it was just gonna be recruiting. Wasn’t going to be anything else you had to worry about. And from the many times that we’ve played each other, again, you know one way or  another you’re going to get better because of what he does with his teams and how his teams play and prepare. But, he’s one of the great ones that have ever coached this game. And most of all, I consider him a friend and again is one that I know that would be there for me if I needed it.”

On the benefit of an exhibition like this outweighing a closed door scrimmage

“There’s no benefit behind closed doors that it (doesn’t) takes place at this. This should be done. I’ve said for years that  we should be allowed to play two or three of these like this. I think it does more to get us ready than closed scrimmages because of the atmosphere. And as much as it helps us, this situation. I think the referees need it more than we need it because, and I mean that in a good way. I mean, we get to practice, we’re out there. They come in and do scrimmages, but the work they get doing intrasquad scrimmages doesn’t touch this, not even close to it. And I think they would tell you they need to, and I mean that in a positive way. I just think that as the leagues go to, you know, Big 10 what, 20, maybe 22 in the addition to keep some of these intersectional games going. I think these games, like exhibition games are great to do with. And I think we could all come together for a great cause, whatever it may be. You can pick different causes, different places around the country, whatever it may be to support people. This is invaluable, and again, I think Tom, because when I got the call from Dave Odom about Maui and where they might move it to Honolulu and he had mentioned that Illinois was gonna play, I think Kansas, I think they played today, I think. I said, why don’t we call Tom and see if he wants to do it? And from there, he did it. I mean, he’s the guy that said, let’s where the shirts, let’s do it all. He’s got such a giving heart that he wants to help when he can.

I think, I hope from what’s going on today and everything that it would be something that they would consider moving forward that we could have a couple of these. Because I think it would help all of us. And we practice so long now. We practice during the summer. We talked about having something in the SEC in August just to give us a chance to, a break from practice. So again, and they could come up with all different kinds of rules for. It can be within two and a half hours of your campus, three hours, whatever it may be. But again, this was good, obviously great for us. And I think it was great for the officials and I think they would tell you that.”

On his team’s ability to respond without Zakai Zeigler and Santiago Vescovi

“That was probably  the biggest takeaway for us was just that. We had some guys out there that, now they practiced together obviously,, and again, you know Michigan State’s going to keep fighting back and do what they do. But that was, we seemed to have an answer to it. I’m happy with our guys because I didn’t know how we were gonna respond. I would tell you, I thought our young players, our freshmen especially, found out it’s different. We talk about it daily about what it’s gonna be like on outside competition. How hard those guys play. A couple of young guys were nervous, which you would expect. But I think that we both probably wanted to play more people coming in. But, you know, you get going in the game and you get lost in the game and you just, again, you forget it’s an exhibition game. You’re just trying to build your team and do things in that moment to help them moving forward and all the situations at the end of the game. We both don’t have everything in, I’m sure that they would guard post different a little bit. We certainly would a little bit different, some things doubling post here or there, those type things. Either team has everything in at this point, but a game like this will make you get it in quick.”

On Tom Izzo using full-court press late in the game and using exhibition games to deal with those moments

“We expected that we had talked about it in practice and being without two guys, two guards that normally are back there doing that for us. And that’s how we want to play. We just didn’t think we could sustain it today. I was impressed with their guards condition, their physical cardio toughness. I thought they worked us back there in the back court really good, really well. And that’s how we want to play too. And that’s how we will play once we can put it all together. But I thought that, well, they scored off of it. They got some buckets out early. When we jumped out early, they got back in the game by us turning the ball over and that was due to them. I mean, we got sloppy a few times, but a lot of it had to do with their physicality and making us work to get it in.

“And Jahmai Mashack really did a good job when you think about what he had to do. And he carried a big load today with those guys constantly coming at him. But again, what they did is what I hope we can work ourselves into because it is effective. It affects teams and again, I know we’ll learn from it. We haven’t done that much in practice with it. Normally that’s how we would practice. But because of Zakai being out and different guys in and out, we just haven’t got to that point yet. But hopefully we will.”

On if he’s seen that version of Dalton Knecht during Tennessee’s offseason

“No, I haven’t seen that. I’ll be honest with you, I mean, offensively yes, I have. We think offensively that he’s an extremely gifted player, but the way he came out and played defensive star the game I have not seen that at any point in time, which is a good thing because it’s on film now. And he’s raised the bar, which is a good thing. Because I think he proved to himself today that if he wants to lock in and get it done, he can. And again, as a coaching staff, what we want see him is to play that hard defensively. And his offense is gonna take care of itself. It is. But that’s the hardest I’ve seen him play defensively at any point in time since he’s been with us.”

On why he thinks that this with Knecht and his defense 

“I don’t know. And I think a lot of it has to do, I thought Jahmai and Josiah today did a really good job, Jonas too, really in his own way. And those guys to know they had to lock in and guard and they were very active talking huddles, halftime. And that’s what you want to see. I mean, those guys have been through it, but I thought they kept giving him confidence. But yeah, he worked. That’s as hard as I’ve seen him work.”

On what he learned about Tennessee transfer Jordan Gainey in the game

“Jordan’s had a big target on his back. As a freshman, as you know, leads the country in three-point shooting. And last year, every game he played, he was a target of everybody’s scouting report. Here’s what I do know, going at the end of the game, when he went up there in practice, when we’re working on situations and guys go up there and they’ve gotta make a free throw for us to execute what we need to execute. If they don’t, I’ll say, you’re gonna run a 17, if you miss, put some pressure on him. He’s the one guy that always wants to go up there. He does. He likes that moment.” 

On what Freddie Dilione needs to do to have a bigger role

“I think Freddie is going be fine. I do. I think this good for him. Again, a lot of the things that he likes to do, he’s gonna have to change because a lot of things he likes to do. When he was struggling, I mean, he was out there and we were determined we’re gonna leave him in, see if he can play through it. And I thought, again, his teammates really encouraged him. They were really trying. Because he was getting frustrated because I don’t think he’s had people come at him like that off the drive, pressing into him. He got the ball where he wanted to get it, but he couldn’t get it up. Those type things where he is gonna get quicker, (go to) the rim and those type things. But we believe in him. We really do. And we know we need them and we need everyone. But I thought today, probably more than anything, as much as we’ve talked about, you guys have no idea of what you’re getting into. And I can’t explain it to you. I can only show you, but until you get out there and feel it, he felt it today. That’s one thing I asked him. I said, you guys understand how, what we’re talking about, they all, the young guys said they do.”

On what Tennessee was able to do handling the ball in that environment without Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler

“We’ve been having Jahmai handle the ball a lot (in practice) through throughout the summer and fall. And we liked it like early. The speed we played with early is what we want. We didn’t sustain it. Some of that has to do because Tom’s team, Michigan State, they’re hard to guard. I mean, they’re physical, they run great action. They come off with speed and to maintain it on both ends. As much as we want to be the defensive team that we think we can be, we’ve gotta have the depth to have it. But I was really proud of the older guys fighting through. I mean, they know how to deal with it. And they’ve been in a lot of those big games, but both teams turned it over a lot more. We don’t turn it over. They don’t turn it over that much. And that’s what you would kind of expect this time of the kind of year, because what they gave us today, as much as we tried, we can assimilate practice. And I’m sure it’s vice versa for them. So we both take a lot from it.”

On if he was pleased with the defensive effort and intensity from Tennessee

“Other than the dunks on the corner. I mean, we talked about that. We told them who was gonna run from the corners and dunk and it’s two of our older guys. I think Josiah gave up one and (Mashack) gave up one. And, right now I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt to say maybe fatigue has something to do with it. But that’s one thing that we, we’ve talked about a lot of that corner cut and they got a couple of those. But, again, the communication was pretty good overall. We got spread out a little bit. We really tried to prepare for this game, like you would a regular game in terms of a scouting report, personnel driven, how we want to play each individual guy, who’s the guy that we want to run off on the three-point line? Who do we think we can take advantage of? And I’m sure they did the same thing. And for the most part, our guys did a pretty good job carrying out the scouting report.

On Coen Carr’s dunking ability and Dalton Knecht’s dunk

“Well, we recruited Coen Carr. I’m not surprised at him, but what did surprise me was Dalton Knecht. That dunk he had, that one surprised me, kind of brought me back to my playing days, you know? But Tom got a terrific player there (Carr) and he’s gonna do a great job with him. And he’s the guy that we knew. I mean, a guy like that, you don’t even have to go a perfect pass. He’ll make it a perfect pass with the way he goes to get it.” 

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