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Tennessee Wins Season Opener Thanks To Veteran Leadership

Tennessee’s Yves Pons (35) is defended against by Colorado’s D’Shawn Schwartz (5) and Colorado’s Jeriah Horne (41) during a season-opener game between Tennessee and Colorado at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020.

Tennessee opened the 2020 season with a 56-47 win over Colorado on Tuesday night In Knoxville. The Vols, who found out their opponent only 72 hours ago, had only practiced together three times in two weeks.

The Vols took the court with a new name in the starting lineup, as Victor Bailey Jr. started his first game as a Vol. The Oregon transfer has been with the team for just over two years now and was finally able to hit the court with his teammates. Accompanying Bailey on the court was Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, John Fulkerson and Yves Pons.

It didn’t take long for the Vols to show off their skill, taking a 17-2 lead at the U16 break. James had five points during this stretch. Two newcomers for the Vols finally made their debuts coming out of the break, as E.J. Anosike and Keon Johnson took to the court, to the applause of the TBA crowd.


If you didn’t know what you were going to see out of Anosike, it wasn’t long before you realized why the coaches love him. Though he finished the night with only four points and four rebounds, he looks to have the ability to be a monster in the paint. As Fulkerson was getting into foul trouble, Anosike was the first one off the bench in his spot. This could turn into a nice rotation for this group.

Tennessee went on a 14-2 run over 6:46 and looked to be well on their way to a dominating night. The Vols had already played 10 guys at the U8 television break and Bailey had eight points.

Colorado switched into the zone defense, which gave the Vols problems, especially in forcing up some bad shots. Tennessee had nice looks at the mid-range, but they just weren’t falling. Colorado closed the half on a 14-5 run and the Vols led 31-24.

The second half seemed to bring on some heavy legs for the Vols, as Colorado got off to a 7-2 run. Fulkerson picked up his third foul at the 18:08 mark and was taken out. This was the moment it felt like Tennessee would have to stave off the big run.

Then came the high-flying spark. At the 15:08 mark of the 2nd half, Vescovi connected with Johnson for the beautiful ally-oop, followed by a Vescovi three pointer. This was the type of 1-2 punch this Tennessee team is capable of hitting you with in the blink of an eye.

Jaden Springer connected on a couple of three-point shots during the next seven minutes, giving the Vols that bit of room they needed. Springer finished the night with six points and two rebounds, with those baskets coming at the perfect time.

Even though the Vols only led 50-43 at the U4 break, this game never felt in danger. Yes, they were 2-of-11 from the floor during a stretch, but they were making it up on the defensive end. Those elbow shots will start to fall for the Vols with more practice and they will definitely find a way to play through the zone defense better.

As the final seconds were coming off the clock, Fulkerson and Vescovi were closing the game at the free throw line. The Vols had scored 16 points off 23 turnovers, while shooting 36 percent from the field.

Tennessee won this game on the back of their veterans, as Fulkerson and Vescovi both scored 11 points, while Pons had 10 rebounds. As the Vols continue feeling out their rotation, we’ll get a better understanding of who these games will flow through and how Rick Barnes will decide to split up the minutes.

It won’t take long for Tennessee fans to fall in love with the work ethic of Victor Bailey Jr. who finished with 8 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. His vision on the court will be an added bonus to this deep roster and Rick Barnes. Also, having a healthy Josiah-Jordan James shouldn’t be taken for granted. He’s healthy and ready to play, as you could tell with his 8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists.

The final score might not jump out at folks, but after 267 days of no competitive basketball, tonight was just what the doctor ordered: a win.


All Images Courtesy Of Tennessee Athletic Communications 

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