Tennessee basketball never trailed but it took them over a half to open up a comfortable lead against the Wofford on Tuesday night. But the Vols opened the second half on a run and coasted to an 82-61 win at Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center.
After the game, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes discussed the Vols’ first half rebounding struggles, Santiago Vescovi adjusting to a new role and much more.
Here’s everything Barnes said postgame.
More From RTI: Tennessee Guard Exits Wofford Game With Injury
On the first half rebounding woes, what changed in the second half
“No. I think that they had a good game plan. We normally like to get in a 70-plus possession game. Tonight, I think it was a 63-possession game. First of all, they were extremely well coached. They did what I pretty much expected defensively, that they would really keep it tight. You watch it, they’re really very much inside the 3-point line and hoping that we would settle for early and hope that we’re not making shots regularly and they’re in great rebound position to do it. Then on the other end, we put them in some long possessions. They stayed with it, disciplined. They had to throw up some tough shots at the end. Those shots bounced anywhere and everywhere. We were running in as opposed to blocking out and we’re letting balls come over our head. A couple times they took it away from us and gave them credit for that. We got better certainly in the second half. I told our team that’s one of the big concerns I had, can we finish possessions defensively and rebound the way we need to.”
On Dalton Knecht changing the game with his defense
“Well, it is that and he should. That’s where he should play. But part of defense is rebounding. I think he’s averaging around three rebounds per game. He’s got to rebound. He’s got to realize when you’re playing basically with the four perimeter guys out there, he’s gotta be a big part of the rebounding solution. But he did. He came up with some deflections. That’s what we’ve asked him to do, contain, contest, deflect. Then obviously as time goes on, people are going to work him. Anybody would do that. It’s tough when you know you can score the ball. We got guys that you guys know can shoot the ball. When they’re not going in, guys get a little antsy and they want get the next one. When they’re as open as they could have been, it’s just that deal with the fact that we scored 82 points in a low-possession game and against a team that they were disciplined. They threw in some shots at the end that I don’t know if we could defend any better. I wasn’t very happy at the end. (Josiah-Jordan James) went for a steal that he can’t go through and Santi (Vescovi) got beat back door and we playing hard. But we’ve got to get smarter in those situations. Again, all these games really helped you build. I thought that Freddie (Dilione) came in. (His) minutes were good there. and then he got hurt and. I was really happy for Cam (Carr) tonight. I thought he came in and tried to do the things we talked about with him. Just a couple minutes that JP (Estrella) played, he will learn it a lot from them believe it or not. But we’re getting ready to go to Honolulu and play three really tough games and we’re gonna need everybody in three days.”
On Wofford’s three-point shooting
“Well, I’m not saying they were all open. I mean, a couple times they threw in some where they weren’t open and then you give them credit for that. Anytime a team gets going, when you get beat off the dribble, it puts you in the rotation. They shot 27%. Again, I can tell you three off the top my head, they made great shots. They were defended and so give them credit for that. But they’re a good basketball team. They play a nice league. When we play teams like this, we want that kind of challenge. We want to see a different style of what people might play. I thought they were extremely well coached. I told the team that. I was impressed the fact that they play a lot of the guys minutes coming into the game. They were playing almost the entire team double-digit minutes tonight. They went 1, 2, 3, 4, probably not as many, but they still played — look at their minutes. I’m impressed they weren’t afraid to go to their bench. I do think we did wear them down a little bit, but we weren’t efficient enough in transition to get some of those easy baskets we need. We’ve gotta do a better job of going around the rim. But your team makes shots, they are open. They made them. They made a couple of really tough ones. Give them credit for it.”
On what makes Dalton Knecht an efficient scorer
“I mean, he’s confident. It’s like tonight he came down in transition twice and pulled up and he said coach they’re rhythm threes. I said, well make them. I said on the night when a team’s trying to get you to shoot threes, sometimes you can’t. You’re gonna have to fight for a little bit more. And again, anytime we can get a paint touch and a kick out for a three, I’m good with it. I’m really good with it. Because I think we got guys that can shoot it, but you still have to put pressure on people and, but he’s got a great feel for it. And again, I don’t think he gives himself enough credit to his mid range game and getting downhill. I don’t. I don’t think he gives himself enough credit for that. And again, he can shoot it. There’s gonna be some nights when he really gets it going and starts stripping it, but you gotta have a feel for the game and how the game’s being played and make those adjustments.”
On scoring 82 points in a low possession game
“Yeah, again, I would agree with that. I think Jordan Gainey has done a terrific job coming in every game, giving us a spark and getting things. And I thought he really worked trying to get downhill. That’s something that’s new to him too at this level. I mean, he’s totally different. But every game he’s come in and try to get down hill. I think as his conditioning gets better. He’s gonna be able to play and be an even better player for longer periods of time. But, I thought Santi really tried to adjust within the game, get downhill. But we still gotta get our guards driving the score, not just driving for a kick out. We’ve gotta put pressure on the rim. We need it from Jonas, we need it from Tobe. We need it from, not just Dalton going in around the rim. We need a guard to get downhill and we missed a couple layups. Again as long as we shoot ’em to make them, I don’t have problems. When we throw up shots hoping it goes in. I’m not big on hope shots.”
On Freddie Dilione exiting the game with an injury
“He’s been having problems with the, I would, for the lack of saying it, probably playing with fasciitis and he’s been working hard the last couple weeks. His arches have been hurting him, and he just said he felt like something popped and we actually had a MRI scheduled for tomorrow morning anyway so it comes at a good time. He’ll be able to get it (MRI) early in the morning and we’ll see.”
On Santiago Vescovi adjusting to a new role
“I think Santi is all about winning. I’d say the same thing about Josiah and I think Santi again when you go back and look at it, every game, like after the Wisconsin game, I was really impressed how many winning plays he made on the defensive end that he did that were impressive that don’t show up. And sometimes even during the game you take them for granted. He plays hard defensively and he makes just a lot of plays out there that might not show up in terms of him shooting the ball.
And we know he can do that, but he has a great feel for the flow of the game and he knows when he needs to get aggressive and he knows how to get other guys involved. He’s always thinking the game. I would say that he and, I would tell you, he and Josiah, they would tell you they welcome the fact that we’ve got some more guys that can help them on the offensive end. They would tell you that there was often times a year ago and even Jahmai would tell us, they knew that there were some nights when we had lulls and, again, you go back to how many points Dalton and Gainey scored tonight? 34.
So, I mean, they welcome that and it gives them a chance to even, I think being even more aggressive and you guys know as well as we do that Santi and Z(akai) are going to have some nights when, as we keep putting it together, they’ll figure out what they need to do on the offensive end.”
On Tobe Awaka’s development
“He has worked on it. As we talked about before the season started, he had a good summer with USA Basketball I think helped him confident wise. He’s got really good touch. And again, the more he plays his game, the better he’s gonna get. And we’re trying to get him to not be such a bull in a China shop and be more finesse at times. And because he’s got such really good touch, I think he will probably improve throughout the year, maybe more than any guy on our team offensively. And he’s all about winning too. And he’s gonna do what he has to play and has to do to help win defensively, rebound the ball. I really do expect him to get better offensive as the year goes on. But we play, we ran, we ran a play for him twice tonight and he did his job and the ball wasn’t delivered. That wasn’t his fault. These guys have to make that pass. He did a great job twice when earlier in the game. We wanted put some pressure in there and his teammates didn’t get him the ball.”
On if he knew Tennessee was getting this kind of player in Jordan Gainey
“Well, I’ll go back. I’ve said before Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden told me, they said coach, he can do more than shoot the ball. They told me everything. And he worked out with them a lot, (the) two years he was at (USC) Upstate and when they were here, when he was at home before he went back (for the) summer, before whatever. Spent a lot of time with those guys and the biggest thing that’s happened for him is his body has changed. I mean, I’m not sure how much weight he has put on, but physically he is so much more. And more explosive that you think. He had a couple dunks in practice that were like where did that come from?
And I think we’ll see it at some point in time this year. He’s a good basketball player. He’s got a good feel. He’s a guy that I think he feels he can get a shot off when he needs to get it off. He’s proven he score at three levels, but it’s all new to him. I think as he continues to with his cardio fitness toughness, I think that’s gonna take him to a different game. His body’s gonna continue to change over next year and a half that’s gonna help him.”
On Josiah-Jordan James going over 1,000 career points and what he has meant to the Tennessee basketball program
“Well, you think about the year he came in as a freshman and that was probably the toughest year where, we were telling our freshman this, he played on the team his freshman year that he had to play and he told them he wasn’t ready for it, he had to do it. And he talked about how having a chance to sit as a freshman, learn and get your way into, he didn’t get that opportunity. I mean, when you play and have the kind of year that we had when we were really struggling all the way around, it’s tough.
“And I think how resilient he’s been and where he’s improved his game. I mean, he’s done so much with his game, smart player. He knows, again, he’s like Santi, makes a lot of winning plays. And defensively he’s got great hands. And his deflections are always great, but he has been a huge, huge part of this program in terms of culture, everything we’re about what we want this program to represent.
“And I still want him to continue to get better and better while he’s here this next couple months. And I think he will because he, in the worst way, he and Santi, talk about roles, their roles, they’ll tell you they want to win. Whatever role they have to roll into, it’s different than the past, they’re willing to do it. But I think he does give his teammates a lot of confidence because he and Santi both have been out there a lot and they know what’s going on and I think those young guys listen to him. If you watch our shoot around today, those guys do a great job of coaching the young guys up. And in the nine years that I’ve been here, he’s been a big part of those.”