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What Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee Defeated Tarleton State

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball defeated Tarleton State 65-46 on Thursday night in its final game before the Christmas Break. The Texans cut Tennessee’s lead to as few as six points in the game’s final six minutes before the Vols ended the game on a 15-2 run.

Following the win, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes discussed the poor shooting performance, Dalton Knecht’s struggles and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said.

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

On what Tennessee has to do to find more consistency offensively

“Well, we had looked at the second half, I mean, you got to make some (shots). Some nights you shoot it, sometimes you don’t. And we had good looks at it. I wish we could coach making shots, but you can’t. But it was the exact kind of game I thought it would be. You’re playing against one of the slowest playing teams offensively in the country. You knew they were going to take it deep into the shot clock every time. You knew they were gonna be extremely physical, try to get to the glass. You knew they were going to run through every screen. They’re going to be physical on that end. They had depth. They’re not concerned about fouling, not that they do more than we probably knew when we’re trying to be physical, but it’s exactly the game that we thought it would be. 

“Started out, we stood around, didn’t have our spacing. It was all about spacing. Wasn’t ready to move the ball like we had talked about for a couple days. And then second half when we had a chance to stretch down, we had some great looks at and make it got of pass the ball better. But the word you use there, consistency. We’ve got to get that more from just knowing what guys are going to do. We can’t have guys that bounce the ball more than three times. I mean, you get in trouble against a team like this. That’s a two-bounce game really.

And not two-dribble game. But I’m telling you, it’s exactly the way I talked to him. Play the way it played.”

On what it means to be a first-time nominee for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

“What it means, this is a team game and I’ve been blessed. The good Lord has looked out for me for a long, long time. Even way back when probably was growing in trying to figure out how to be the head basketball coach. But it’s always been about the players, it’s always been about our staff. I’ve always tried to pride myself in hiring people that I thought was better than me. I think that when you’re in a leadership position, you got to be someone who’s going more learn something every day. And the way you do that, you surround yourself with great people.

And obviously it’s not just your coaches, it’s everybody in the organization. And then my family. And they’ve stuck with me. I mean, I think I’ve what made ten moves over the years. And again, I’m just thankful that the good Lord, he’s blessed me in ways that I can’t even imagine. But anytime you’re involved in a team sport and you’re singled out for something, always goes back to being a team sport and all those that have helped you along the way and been there with you along the way. They’re as much a part of it as anybody.”

On what adjustments Dalton Knecht needs to make to snap out of his slump

“I think he’s going to have to understand if he’s not shooting the ball, he can impact games other ways. I think he’s always put his everything into scoring the ball. And he now is seeing some things that he’s never seen before in terms of the physicality and heavy gaps. But he doesn’t have to score it. He just needs to make good plays. And he’s capable of doing it because there’s nothing he can’t do. He can pass it. An believe me, once he starts making those kind of hockey assists, those Gretzkys, where he makes the pass that leads to the basket, that’s when things will change. When people have to make an adjustment. Because he’s not going to always be able to catch the ball and hop. He hops too much on the perimeter, thinking he’s going to get downhill with it.

“We try to move him around and put him in different positions, but he’s got a big target on his back. But he can’t let the fact he’s not making shot impact the other end of the court. I mean, he’s going to have to figure out how to get fouled. He’s going to have to figure out how he can run the court and get some easy buckets that way. He’s going to have to understand that he can go offensively, rebound (and) score that way. If he’s just going to wait and think he’s going score it every time he has him on his hand, he is going to be frustrated. And it’s going to affect him that way. 

“But a game like this, when we put together a schedule like this, we knew exactly what we were getting (against) Tarleton State. We knew what we were getting with NC State. And we knew that those teams are teams that really, really pressure hard.They’re real physical and they’re trying to see if you can make one-on-one plays. And then obviously as the year goes on, everybody plays analytics, everybody (plays the) scouting report. And that’s what they’re doing with him right now. It’s all new to him. Believe me, he’s never had this type of athlete and it’s only going to intensify as we continue.”

On playing an eight-man rotation again

“We’re going to win games. I mean, we can’t afford to lose this game in any way, shape or form. I mean, every game is an NCAA tournament game and it’s not just about winning, it’s about playing the right way. And what I’ve told the young guys, it’s all about them learning how to play defense. At the caliber we want to play. That’s what we want to see. So you think about it, you’re asking me about playing, we got to get Dalton going. We got to get Jordan Gainey going where he is going. We gotta get Jahmai Mashack playing. Like this is a tough game for him the way that they’re guarded, you know, and again, those other guys we’d like to see them get out there. Some we would, but I mean, it’s not just the young guys it’s consistency. You know, somebody asked about the consistency, that’s what we’ve been talking about all year. So that’s what we’re trying to get done. The most consistent guy, the last two games has been Zakai and I think we put a lot on him. And  he needs help from some other people.”

On if Dalton Knecht is completely healthy

“He’s not totally. He’s not. Both he and Jordan Ganey aren’t totally healthy. They both, actually we thought Jordan’s ankle turn was worse than Dalton’s in the Carolina game. He just didn’t say anything about it until the next day. But he’s not, and that has something to do with it. But hopefully these next five days he can get healthy and everybody needs a break right now. We’ve traveled a lot. We’ve played a lot of big games and hard games. I mean, think about it. We played some hard games, different styles. This was a style of the night where again, you go back, teams holding the ball, trying to make it a low possession game. And the bottom line, you’ve got to grind it out. And in a low possession game, every possession matters, every one of them.”

And it goes kind of, when they get out there again, they understand we got to win games. We got to get everybody playing well, especially those older guys that have been here. And then if they’ll work in practice, do what we need them to do there’ll come a time. They’ll, again, it’s a long way to go. And they are improving. I will tell you that. It’s being able to sustain it for long periods of time. And the older guys could help those guys by being more consistent. And we can’t start the game turning the ball over the way we did against a team (that) we talked about for two days— you can’t pick up your dribble. You can’t stand and hold the ball over your head and stare it down. You got to move the ball. They’re just waiting to jump on passes and get into gaps. Again, consistency is where we’ve got to improve.”

On what about Dalton makes him believe he can snap out of this

“He’s a good teammate. He wants to win. Does he want to play? His teammates, they’re pulling for him. They’re going to help him. But one thing about our team, you guys have watched us win a lot of games like we had to win tonight. Our defense at the end, we did a great job for the most part. Again, Jonas, is going to have to work on when those smaller guys get down below him and push him in there. Tobe’s gotten better and better. Like I think every minute he played, it’s going to help him. I look at the two young guys we put in there tonight for a couple minutes because as time goes on, we’re going to need those guys. It’s hard to get past 8, 9, 10 guys— eight guys really, when you play the schedule we’ve play. When you’ve been in as many possession games, like we’ve been in.”

On what Tobe Awaka needs to understand about spacing

“Get his spacing. Then knowing the collapse, like Jonas tonight, we had a couple good dump offs and those guys were too slow getting the ball from the chin to the rim. And again, we talked about it, said they’re going to be in their tight. We talked about it, said they’re going to be in there tight— slap, grab, get a rebound, they’re going to come after it. It’s dealing with physicality and we’re in a league that’s known for physicality. And as Tobe rolls and knowing that there’s going to be somebody coming from somewhere. I mean teams, if you put them in a roll situation and down below those guys want the ball, they’re gonna have to work hard. I give Tarleton a great job. The kid down there, I thought played his butt off, wasn’t letting him catch the ball, outworked him on both ends, really, when you think about it. But it’s hard to get that position. But with that, when they do get it, the guards have to be ready to deliver it, which at the end of the game a couple times Tobe did get it where he wanted it right in front of the rim, but it still should have gotten there quicker.”

On making sure they schedule teams that play stout, physical defense in the non conference and how that prepares them for SEC play

“There’s a lot of teams in the SEC that play like this, you know, who’s going to play like this. Everything we do is trying to get us ready for conference play. Because as tough as it is, you get, I mean, one of the hardest things to do is to win a game. It’s hard to win at home. It’s really hard to win on the road in conference play. The fact is, every game, I’ve said it many times, takes on its own personality. If you’d have sat down with me before the game, I would’ve told you this game was going to play exactly the way it played out. I didn’t think — I thought that if we could guard them, which I thought we could keep them down where we did, but I knew we were gonna have to make some shots.

“We work hard (to schedule). Coach (Gregg) Polinsky has taken it over, you know, through the years. Different coaches have had it, but he worked really hard at, again, what can we do even in our buy games? What can we do to make sure we’re gonna get something out of it? And not just try to beat somebody by 50 or 60 points.It’s not good for anybody.

“And I think with the younger guys, (I) would like to think now (they) understand how hard it is to win at this level. I mean, I’m not sure they had ever heard of Tarleton State before they was on the schedule. And those guys wanna play, too, and they can play. Everything we’ve done with our schedule is to try to get us ready for SEC play.”

On if Tobe Awaka playing more in closing time the last two games is more about what he’s doing, or more about what Jonas Aidoo is not doing

“Both, you know, physicality. I mean, you go back to the last two games, Jonas has given up some points in there where bigger, stronger guys have been able to move him and put him where they want him. And that’s something he’ll have to continue to work on. And it is gonna go down with getting leverage. He can’t play straight up there. And those guys are smaller than him, shorter, but stronger in some ways. And they get down under him and they can move him. 

“And then Tobe obviously is stronger. There’s no doubt you guys know he’s stronger than than Jonas, but Tobe is learning how to get down and the best thing Tobe starting to learn how to do is how to switch, which will, it’ll bode well. That even gives us a chance when we go with a big lineup. We don’t have to make as many adjustments with our defense the way we would and can stay with the packages that we like best.”

On his decision to roll out a full-court press at the end of the game

“Well, we’ve done it. That’s what we wanted. That’s who we want to be. We want to play 94 feet. We try to do it, but again, the problem with that is Z is normally the guy back there and if go back to the NC State game, we spent a lot of time in the backcourt. Z did a great job in that game. But again, that’s what I was talking about. We’re putting a lot on him. Not only asking him to get there and he needs to do that, and he likes to do that, but the other guys get up there and doesn’t do him any good to work as hard as he tries to work on the ball and guys just allowing a free outlet, that guys went up and catch it. We knew that when they crossed half court, I mean, they stood there a couple times at half court letting the clock come down. We knew that. And again, I thought offensive rebound wise, we gave up more than we needed to. But you gotta give them credit for that. They were aggressive going to get it.”

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