Tennessee basketball’s offense started slow against Tennessee Tech before finding its rhythm halfway through the first half and cruising to a 80-42 victory over its instate foe.
Here’s three quick takeaways on Tennessee basketball’s lopsided victory.
Zakai Zeigler Returns
251 days after he limped off the Thompson-Boling Arena court with a torn ACL, Zakai Zeigler made his official return to the court. The Vols’ point guard didn’t start and played only 13 minutes off the bench in the win but brought his usual intensity and energy to the court.
Tennessee Tech’s zone defense made it hard for Zeigler to create off the dribble but the junior point guard still had a number of nice passes.
Zeigler ended the night with three points (one-of-four FG), three assists, a rebound and a steal. The offensive numbers were nothing extraordinary but the point guard’s on ball defense was the best part of his performance, making everything difficult on the Golden Eagles’ guards.
The biggest win of the night was the fact that Zeigler was back on the court for the season opener after a long recovery.
Tennessee’s Offense Starts Slow, Finds Its Rhythm
After an offseason of roster additions and a preseason of improved offensive performances, Tennessee started slow on the offensive end against the Golden Eagles. Tennessee led just 9-6 and had twice as many turnovers as they did made shots.
Then the Vols found their offensive rhythm. Transfer Jordan Gainey got the Vols going by scoring seven straight points and it was all Tennessee needed. Tennessee went on an extended 24-2 run to open up the game and make sure they would cruise to a season opening victory.
Tennessee Tech’s matchup zone defense had the Vols a little out of sorts early and they made a few careless turnovers. Rick Barnes’ ninth Tennessee team calmed down and got into the flow of the game. They also made shots which obviously goes a long way.
Tennessee finished the first half hot from deep including a trio of triples from Josiah-Jordan James and a pair of triples from Dalton Knecht.
The second half had a similar feel. The Vols struggled offensively for the first 10 minutes of the second half. The turnovers were less prevalent in this stretch of the second half but Tennessee relied on the perimeter jumper and was inconsistent knocking it down.
Same Tennessee Defensive
With Tennessee’s push to be a better offensive team this season comes an expectation that the Vols’ defense will take at least a small step back. Against an overmatched Tennessee Tech squad, that was not the case.
The Vols’ defense completely swarmed and overwhelmed the Golden Eagles for 40 minutes as John Pelphrey’s team couldn’t get an open look all game.
Tennessee’s ball pressure predictably gave the Golden Eagles issues as Tennessee Tech coughed the ball up 16 times in its season opener. osiah-Jordan James led the Vols with three steals while Santiago Vescovi added two more steals.
But the most impressive part of Tennessee’s defense was its anchor: Jonas Aidoo. Aidoo has showed signs of being a dominant defender in his Volunteer tenure but consistency alluded him as an underclassmen. It’s just one game but Aidoo was dominant on the defensive end against Tennessee Tech.
The junior forward blocked four shots but affected nearly every shot at the basket against the Golden Eagles. That level of rim protection allows Tennessee to play some lesser perimeter defenders without compromising its defense as much.
The final numbers for Tennessee Tech’s offense against the Vols: 42 points on 29% shooting from the field (17% from 3PT) while scoring just .656 points per possession.
Tennessee faces its first major test of the season on Friday night as they travel to Madison to face Wisconsin. Tipoff from the Kohl Center is at 9 p.m. ET.