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Everything Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee Basketball Dominated Texas A&M

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball moved into a tie for first place in the SEC standings on Saturday night as they knocked off Texas A&M 86-51 in Knoxville.

The game was tight for the first 16 minutes before Tennessee got on fire and took control of the game. Juniors Zakai Zeigler and Jonas Aidoo were dominant in the win and turned in two of their best performances of the season.

Following the game, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes discussed Zeigler’s big game, the Vols’ effort on the board and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said.

More From RTI: Rick Barnes Reaches Career Milestone In The Vols Win Over Texas A&M

On winning his 800th career game

“You know what, it’s really the motto in our program, it’s not about me. And God has truly blessed me with players and coaches, administrations. And just certainly a family that has been with me every step of the way. And I’ve been doing a long time, obviously, but I’m just thankful, blessed. And I do know this, that every time that I thought I could do it on my own, it didn’t work. And I just thank God for looking out for me through the years. Because there have been times that I really messed it up and I appreciate him not quitting on me and keeping me where I needed to be. But I’m really thankful to the players. I know what grind they put in every day, and our coaches and people, our program. And I’ve just been blessed, again, with having a chance to be around some wonderful people.”

On the play of Dalton Knecht, Zakai Zeigler and Jonas Aidoo and if this Tennessee team is at its best when those three are at their best

“Those guys, I mean, what Zakai did, I mean, look at his (9) rebounds, (14) assists right there. And Jonas plays like he did tonight. But I thought everybody (played well). I thought Jahmai Mashack’s minutes were huge. I mean, you go back to down there (at Texas A&M), they just had their way with us. And I’ve got a lot of respect for Buzz and his program and how hard they played. And they’re difficult to play against. But the rebounding was a big deal. We’ve obviously talked about that. And we’re talking about one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, and we certainly didn’t want them to get in the lane and make it a jumping contest. But again, I could talk about each one of these guys. But I truly, and I mean this, I thought everyone that went in that game tonight impacted it some way, somehow. And it was really a great mindset and we just got to continue to try to improve and get better with it.” 

On Zakai Zeigler affecting the game without shooting well

“He takes everything personal. He knows and I told him I thought he played one of the worst games he has played since he has been here at Missouri. You could tell he had just great focus the last couple days getting ready. He is a guy that impacts the game. If he makes shots, that is one thing, but him getting into the lane really spraying it the way he did and collapsing the defense and then giving guys the chance to catch it on the run and do some things. He is just invaluable with what he does. What can you say about a guy on the court getting nine rebounds like that? Yet he is distributing the ball the way he did. He is a special player.”

On if Jonas Aidoo was more aggressive against Texas A&M than he’s been in other games this season

“He was, I thought, terrific getting his hands up and really rebound the ball with two hands. And they’re a team that you got to work to get it because they are relentless in terms of coming at it. Even when you get it, they stay after it. But when Jonas plays with an aggressive attitude, I mean he’s as effective as any anybody in the country that plays his position.”

On staying motivated ahead of the home stretch of the season

“You look at our schedule, I mean, every team we were going to play from here on out is going to be in the NCAA tournament and so it is about building and trying to improve and obviously if you think you’ve arrived just right now, every team we play our guys understand if we’re not locked in, we can get beat and get beat badly. So it’s about, we talk about mindset like every coach, you ask that question to any coach in the country, you hope that you can again realize where we are at this time of year, you’re going to be ready to go because it can go one way or it can go the other real quick and get away from you.”

On if he liked his team’s pace in the half court

“Well there’s no doubt we want to play with pace. I I think everybody knows that and other teams will play with pace too, but when you’re getting this time of year, I mean this league is a great league and I think it’s a league that’s worthy of nine teams and and there’s teams in this league defend and if you don’t get down the court, it’s going to be a grind every night because teams are going to, they work harder trying to keep you from getting early shots and then they want put you up against the clock if they can. So pace is important for us, but I do think that we played a lot of different styles this year. We played a lot of different ways with our team, but I think if we got our druthers, yeah, we like to play teams that get up and down and go, but not all teams do that.”

On if there’s more parity in college basketball this season

“Well, I do think there’s parity around the country and again, I can only tell you the last month and a half, we’ve been so locked in on our league and have great respect for the coaches in this league. And I don’t care, you ask any coach in the country in this league or anywhere, any league, if you go on the road, I’m not sure we’d think anybody gets upset because how hard it is to win. And then on the other hand, you think about winning at home, it’s hard to win at home too. And so I do think there’s certainly parity in college basketball. Certainly the transfer portal has something to do with that, but there’s still a lot of basketball, there’s some teams right now that people aren’t talking about that still have a chance to make a move and who knows and catch lightning in the bottle and who knows what may happen. But it’s still about trying to improve and finding a way to get better.”

On if he thought the loss in College Station two weeks ago affected this team more than any game this season; if this game meant more because of that loss

“You know, I don’t think that. To be honest with you, they knew that I wasn’t very happy after the game at Missouri and not to take anything away from Missouri because Missouri played really, really hard. They made the game the way it did, but did I think we were sharp mentally at Missouri? No. We weren’t. We were not detail-oriented and just doing things that — I talked about it. I said, ‘Hey, this is who we are right now. We don’t have but seven games left. We’re either gonna have seven, or how far can you go into the tournament? And we’ve gotta decide like every team right now, go back to mindset or consistency knowing that everybody you play can beat you if you’re not totally locked in and ready to play for 40 minutes.”

On if he feels like Tobe Awaka is starting to turn a corner

“I do. And again, we’re watching him practice. I think the work he puts in, it all goes back. We’ve got a group of guys that they work hard, it means something to ’em and Tobe is a guy that goes above and beyond what you ask him to do within our program. He’s getting better offensively, he’s getting more of a feel for it. I think he’s starting to understand more and more.

“I thought pretty much tonight, defensively, our post guys maybe — and maybe I shouldn’t say it until I see it, but I thought they did probably as good a job — I’m saying it right now, I might change my mind when I see the film, but I thought they did as good a job as they’ve done all year consistently getting up on the ball screen action. And you’re gonna have to guard  ball screens. I mean to win this time of year, you’ve gotta deal with ball screens and one-on-one isolations. And I thought tonight collectively we had a good effort in both of those areas.”

On the best thing that Zeigler did for the team tonight within his performance

“When he came outta the game, he said, ‘can I have one more?’ And I said, ‘no, because if I put you back in for one more possession, you’ll ask for one more again, because you wanna play all of them.’ But it’s just who he is. He wants to be as good a basketball player as he can possibly be. And I’m just, I’m really proud of the fact that he took — I was hard on him after what I said to him after the Missouri game. I’m not gonna get into that with you, but I was hard on him and you know what? He fixed it and that’s what he is about. So I’m not sure there’s any one game here other than, I mean he goes up and steals the ball a couple times on his own. I’ve seen him do that. But it was the way I thought he managed the game and like I said, he didn’t have a particularly great shooting night. It was just how he controlled the game for us.”

On how nice it was to win the rebounding battle after how the game went in College Station two weeks ago

“Well, you know, we haven’t been great for a couple of (games). You guys kept asking me about it, but I thought our guys knew and again, it’s outta respect for Texas A&M. I mean, again, we have great respect for Buzz and his program and like I said, they’re a difficult team to play against. But the one thing if you’re not ready to go in there and battle on the boards, they can take advantage of you real quickly.”

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