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Three Quick Takeaways: Tennessee Basketball Slugs Past Tarleton State

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball turned in one of its worst offensive performances of the season but used strong defense to grind its way to a 65-46 victory over Tarleton State on Thursday night.

The Vols built a double-digit halftime lead thanks to a strong offensive stretch to close the first half and held on for the win thanks to a strong defensive performance and timely baskets from Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi.

Here’s three quick takeaways on the victory.

Tennessee Uses One Strong Offensive Stretch To Open Up lead

The final game before Christmas break often leads to sluggish performance and upset scares. And through 10 minutes, Tennessee looked like it might fall victim and into a close game.

Tarleton State had a strong defensive game plan and Tennessee struggled to get open looks for the first eight minutes of the game. The Vols scored just 10 points and trailed 12-10 nine minutes into the game.

After his worst performance of the season on Saturday against North Carolina State, Dalton Knecht helped spark Tennessee’s offense with a corner three-pointer and an acrobatic finish at the basket just two possessions later.

That propelled Tennessee to a 7-0 and 15-2 run as its offense found its rhythm and its defense remained stout on the other end of the court. The Vols ball movement was stout for the final 11 minutes of the half and it led to good looks at the basket and from the perimeter.

Tennessee took care of its open looks, making six-of-11 first half three-point attempts with six different Vols connecting from deep.

And after scoring just 10 points in the first nine minutes, the Vols scored 29 points in the final 11 minutes of the half as they opened up a comfortable lead that they never relinquished.

It was a good thing that Tennessee’s offense played well for the final stretch of the first half because they again struggled to get anything going in the second half.

Vols Win With Defense

Tennessee’s slow offensive start to the first half repeated itself in the second half in even more dramatic fashion as the Vols scored just five points in the first eight minutes of the second half.

But Tarleton State never made a true push in the game because they couldn’t gain enough offensive momentum. The Texans entered the game as a bad three-point shooting team but a solid team scoring at the basket. That was a bad formula to attack the more athletic, bigger Tennessee team.

Tarleton State totaled just 46 points in the loss, shooting 30% from the field and 9% from three-point range. The Texas struggled to get open looks all game and got very few open looks from within the three-point line. Tennessee held Tarleton State to a minuscule .780 points per possession.

And Tennessee needed every bit of the good defense because it was a dreadful night for its offense. That allowed the Vols to earn the victory without sweating too much against their inferior foe.

Tennessee’s Scoring Extremely Balanced

Tennessee’s offense struggled in part because no one player had a big scoring night or was particularly efficient. That led to an extremely balanced scoring effort from Tennessee as no key Vol completely disappeared on the offensive end either.

Five different Tennessee players scored between seven and 13 points in the game with Zakai Zeigler leading the way with the game-high 13 points.

Zeigler, like the rest of his teammates, wasn’t perfect on the offensive end but continues to look more-and-more like he did before the knee injury that ended his sophomore season. He dished out five assists while turning it over just once to go along with the 13 points.

Neither Santiago Vescovi (12 points) nor Josiah-Jordan James (10 points) were efficient scoring but came up with timely baskets when Tarleton State made its second half run. Put Jordan Gainey in the same boat. The junior scored nine points on nine shots but had some really nice finishes at the basket to end scoring droughts for the Vols.

Despite a nice spurt in the first half, it was another quiet performance from Dalton Knecht who finished with only six points and spent most of the game’s final 10 minutes on the bench.

Final Stats

Up Next

Tennessee has a rare 12 days off before returning to the court on Jan. 2 for its final non conference game of the regular season against Norfolk State.

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