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Everything Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee Defeated Creighton In Sweet 16

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball advanced to the Elite Eight for the second time in program history on Friday night by knocking off Creighton 82-75 on Friday night.

It was a complete team performance from Tennessee who was without Santiago Vescovi due to illness but got massive contributions from its bench.

Following the win, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes discussed the Vols’ growth after the SEC Tournament loss, Tennessee’s 18-0 run and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said.

More From RTI: Three Quick Takeaways As Tennessee Is Headed To The Elite Eight

Opening statement

“I really thought both teams played their hearts out, played really hard is what you would expect obviously this time of year. The stuff that Coach McDermott does with his team, they’re an extremely, extremely hard team to guard.

Really proud of the effort defensively. Again, they do a lot of things that are really difficult. Also, we made a run, and this time of year you expect them to make a run, which they did. But really proud of the way our guys stayed with each other, did what we had to do.

Great win for our program. These guys up here, I just thought they were terrific with a mindset coming in and continuing with it throughout the game.”

On what he told the players about turning the page quickly

“I wanted them to enjoy this one. I thought it was really an all around team win. We had two freshmen that we started telling today spend extra time in the film room. You’re going to play at some point in time.

I thought Freddie had a great assist and got a three. Cam went in and got a possession for us and knocked down a three. I thought those were huge plays.

We played Purdue earlier in the year. It was a loaded field in Maui, Honolulu. Hard-fought game, it really was. We’ll get back at it with them.

I thought we were playing Friday, Sunday, right? It’s already Saturday, and we’re really playing Saturday, Sunday. The fact is I just heard we got the early game.

Right now it’s a mental prep, and we know that. Again, we obviously have great respect for Purdue, and we’ve played them. But they’re much better, and I’d like to think we are too.”

On Tobe Awaka’s importance in the second half

“I thought Tobe and Jahmai, even — I guarantee when I watch the tape, some of those tip-out rebounds Josiah got his hand on it. But those extra possessions are huge, especially there at the end.

Big three-point play. We went to an empty ball screen on the side. Z made the right read. That was a big play for us. It was his effort getting on the glass.

I thought, again, both Shack and, when we switched off a few times on the big fella, they did a good job holding their ground there. Again, Tobe has gotten better and better and better. If you really think about it, he and Zakai come out of the same AAU program. Neither one of them were highly recruited, but they both play with a lot of heart. We’re just blessed and fortunate to have them.”

On Jahmai Mashack saying this team believed they could make it past the Sweet 16

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it until we’re finished. A year ago we felt we had a really good team, a team that could do some damage. I’m as proud of that team a year ago because, when Zakai went down, we had to totally remake ourselves.

I’m not sure Shack has started since — he was our starting point guard once Zakai went down. We got to the Sweet 16, and from the time they came back, they’ve talked about it that they wanted to get better, wanted to go further.

They’re a close knit group of guys. I really felt like in the last — after the SEC Tournament, they’ve done just an incredible job of getting after each other and holding each other to a higher level, higher standard. I do my — I think I do my job getting after them, but it’s a whole lot easier when they start getting at each other.

It happened the other night in the game. Where Dalton was struggling a little bit, and they snapped at him to snap him out of it a bit, and they talked to him. When you get teams that care that much and can take coaching from each other, that’s a good thing. I can tell you, that’s where the loss in the SEC Tournament helped us.”

On Dalton Knecht’s play during the 18-0 run

“Again, I thought tonight he did more. He was trying to rebound the ball. I thought he really got back to — I thought he was really engaged defensively. Not just thinking I’ve got to score, score, score. When he gets that look and he’s going with it — I actually told him, when you’re in a ball screen, they’re coming, you’re going to have to let Z have some shots at it, and Z made a couple of them.

But he’s highly competitive. When he gets out — our defense broke that game open early for us. We got deflections and got out and ran.

You look at them, and they’re such an excellent position basketball team defensively. They don’t foul, as much as I was asking them to be called. They do a great job at poking at the ball.

But during that stretch, he got it going. Obviously our guys have seen it when they do that, they’re going to try to play to him.”

On how Tennessee played against Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner

“Every team is different, and it will be a different something, again, once we go back and start digging into it.

We worked really hard on drop coverage, where they drop it, because we knew we were going to get shots, and we had to decide, did we want to pull up behind and shoot the three? Did we want to get inside? All I ask them to do, if you’re open behind a screen, we expected those two guys to shoot it, Zakai and Dalton.

If not, I said get inside the 15-foot area to engage them, and from there you’ve got to make the right decision, whether it’s a floater or whatever it is, you’ve got to shoot it with confidence. Then Tobe got a couple where we said the post guy’s got to get to the rim.

Then defensively, we weren’t going to double-team him. I thought they were really well prepared at the start of the game. We wanted to try to get after them. Very first play of the game, and we had talked about doubling the ball, and they came off us, boom, boom, boom, and they were so good at it. We’re not going to be able to do that.

We adjusted to it, and they’re so hard to guard because Greg is such a great basketball coach, and he puts them in position. We also wanted pace. We wanted a high-tempo game we felt, because they had been playing a lot of guys 40 minutes, and we did, we wanted to try to early get up and down the floor and get it into a high-possession game.”

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