Tennessee traveled to College Station on Saturday, looking to build upon their recent performance against Arkansas. It didn’t take long for the Vols to find their offense.
Santiago Vescovi only had 4 points in his last outing, but as the first eight minutes came off the clock, Vescovi caught fire. The sophomore guard connected on his first four three point shots, having 12 points at the under twelve break. If Rick Barnes was looking for somebody to jumpstart this Tennessee offense, Vescovi took up the challenge.
Tennessee led 27-13 at the under eight break. Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer had a combined 9 points over the first twelve minutes. Today was a milestone for Jaden Springer, as the freshman earned his first collegiate start. Rick Barnes had discussed wanting to keep things fluid in his rotation and today proved that point again. In the previous game, it was Keon Johnson getting his first start.
The Vols were 8-8 from the field during the stretch, shooting 65% from the field. As the Aggies continued to give up the good looks, Tennessee was working the ball around into the open space. If there’s one thing we know about this Rick Barnes squad, he wants multiple passes, if it presents itself.
As quick as Tennessee jumped out to a comfortable lead, it was slim pickings over a 4:00 stretch. Though the Vols were leading 31-22 at the under four break, this game could’ve been even worse. The Vols were shooting 60% from the field and 56% from behind the perimeter.
Heading into halftime, the Vols led 37-30, with Vescovi leading the way with 12 points. It felt like a double-digit type of game, but the Aggies were hitting shots to keep them within striking distance. Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson had a combined 11 points in the first twenty minutes.
The second half began with John Fulkerson and Vescovi making consecutive baskets and before you knew it the Vols were leading 44-30 at the first break. The Tennessee defense continued to bend, but not break. At the 13:51 mark, the Vols had 17 assists on 20 made shots.
The Aggies tried to hold onto the game as long as they could, but the Vols were too much down the stretch. At the under eight break, the Vols led 54-43, looking to put a dagger into the Aggies.
As Tennessee was marching towards the endgame, it was Vescovi, Fulkerson and Springer who put things away. The Vols were 4-4 from the field down the stretch, to finish up the business trip to College Station.
The Vols finished with 28 points in the paint and had 23 assists on the day, a big stat for the Vols in the win. The way Tennessee moved the ball around the perimeter and even their inside-out game, it would be hard for the Aggies to keep up. This team continues to find their groove on the offensive side of the court, as the ball flows through the paint on almost every possession.
Santiago Vescovi finished the game with 23 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists to lead the Vols in the 68-54 victory. In his first start, Jaden Springer had 11 points and 6 assists. The freshman’s ability to draw so many defenders to him while driving the basket will be a problem for opponents.
According to Rick Barnes, the Vols starting lineup had never practiced together before today’s game.
“I thought we showed versatility today. We put a team out there today that we’ve never practiced with.”
Barnes also added that he thinks this squad has multiple starting lineups within it.
“We could really start a different lineup every game and i don’t think it would bother anybody in our locker room.”
The two veteran leaders on this team, John Fulkerson and Yves Pons, had a combined 18 points on the day. If the Vols plan on being consistently good on any given night, they’ll have to get more from these two. But that’s an obvious problem that can be fixed, but it’s all about spreading the love.
The Vols were supposed to play at South Carolina on Tuesday night, but Covid cases inside their program might delay this matchup. According to Rick Barnes, there’s a possibility that Tennessee and Vanderbilt could play each other twice this week.
The Vols head home with a 9-1 record, 3-1 in the SEC, and will be preparing for a possible trip to Nashville. Saturday was a good day for this squad, but again, they can get so much better.
Images Courtesy Of “Aggie Photos” and Tennessee Communications