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Tennessee’s Offense At Its Purest Form In Win Over George Mason

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball’s 87-66 win over George Mason was par for the course from an outside perspective. The Vols led virtually the whole way, extended their lead early in the second half and coasted to a victory over an A10 foe.

But there was more beneath the surface. Tennessee turned in its most complete offensive performance of the season. The Vols scored 1.26 points per possessions and had four players total double digits in the win.

Tennessee was balanced on the offensive end and constantly got good looks both from the perimeter and inside.

“I think playing the right way,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said of the offensive performance postgame. “I told them at halftime, I thought we took three shots in the first half from the perimeter that I didn’t think were good shots, guys searching it out. We don’t have to search out shots. If we do the right thing and play the right way, we’re going to get looks.”

Barnes has longed for consistent front court scoring ever since Grant Williams left the program five years ago. The Vols’ ninth-year coach continues to express optimism about junior Jonas Aidoo’s offensive development and sophomore Tobe Awaka has good touch around the rim.

Against George Mason, Aidoo totaled a career-high and game-high 17 points while Awaka returned from injury and scored a career-high 11 points in just 10 minutes.

“Proud of Jonas,” Barnes said. “He should expect a lot from himself because I tell him all the time, he has no idea how dominant he can be on both ends of the court.”

“We think Tobe (Awaka) can score in there,” Barnes added.

Tennessee scored 40 points in the paint against a smaller George Mason front line from guards and bigs alike. The Vols also totaled 27 points from beyond the arc, making nine-of-26 (35%) attempts from deep.

 More From RTI: Three Quick Takeaways From Tennessee’s Win Over George Mason

While Barnes emphasizes that Tennessee still hasn’t had a “great night yet shooting the ball” from the perimeter yet, the three-point shooting performance was solid and the Vols’ weren’t dependent on it like they have at times early this season.

But the most radical development in Tennessee’s win over George Mason was the way they moved the basketball. The Vols entered the game with just 13 assists per game but totaled 27 assists on 32 made baskets.

“When we are playing the way that we want to play moving ball, we expect an assist on a lot of our baskets,” Barnes said.

And Tennessee’s ball movement was stellar against George Mason. The basketball never stuck and it led to a number of gorgeous possessions and beautiful offense. Even though the Vols’ offense has been better earlier this season, the ball has frequently stuck and they’ve been dependent on isolation baskets.

Moving the ball has been a staple of Barnes’ offenses at Tennessee. The Vols have ranked in the top 15 nationally in assist percentage in five of his first eight years in Knoxville including top six performances the last two seasons.

But through eight games, Tennessee’s assist percentage ranks 78th nationally— the second lowest percentage of Barnes’ tenure.

There’s pros and cons that cone with each style of play. Part of the reason Tennessee’s assist percentages have been so high the last two years if they haven’t had many scorers who can create their own shot. That’s not the case this season thanks in large part due to Dalton Knecht.

When shots aren’t falling is when the Vols’ improved ability to score in isolation situations will prove crucial. But at its purest, best form, Tennessee moves the basketball like they did against George Mason.

As Tennessee gets everyone healthy and meshes newcomers with returning talent they should get better at moving the ball and assisting on baskets. Its 87-point performance against George Mason was its best effort to date.

“I think the biggest thing is understanding, and I came in saying we played the game the right way,” Barnes said. “I thought for the most part, guys really did try to do that, but we don’t have to shoot a quick hurry three. We’re too good of an offensive team to feel that we have to do that and we’re still early in the season, but I also think the competition we play has made us look at a lot of different things and find out about a lot of different guys, but we know where we gotta get better and we’re gonna have to do it.”

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