The Tennessee Vols welcomed Murray Statte to Knoxville on Tuesday night. On a night when it was 18 degrees outside of the arena, a nice crowd turned out for this late tip. Tennessee, coming off a full seven-day break after last week’s win over UNC-Asheville, started slow and the Racers took full advantage in the first half. However, after a dominating second half performance, Tennessee came out on top 82-63 and extended the NCAA’s longest home winning streak to 28 games.
Murray State shot 57 percent from 3-point range in the first half amd out-rebounded Tennessee 20-10. The slow start could’ve been a whole lot worse if not for Yves Pons amd his 13 points. The closest scoring teammate was Jordan Bowden with seven. The Vols’ defense was not in rhythm guarding the arc, having a hard time with the switch.
Tennessee was down by as many as 12 points in the first half, with Lamonte Turner not scoring a point until the 17-minute mark in the second half. Bowden decided to take things over in the second, with the assistance of some good passing from Turner. The Vols went on a 7-0 run around the 17-minute mark, that sparked the crowd and gave Tennessee life.
Tennessee took its first lead of the night at the 10-minute mark of the second, off a Bowden 3-pointer. Pons flew in for a put back on the next possession which led to a 8-0 run and extended the Vols’ lead to 64-58. The Vols started to force Murray State into some bad shot selection and turnovers.
Rick Barnes was asked for his thoughts on how the team responded when they trailed by 12 points “What we learned is that they’re willing to fight & make some adjustments with it. I do think the older guys led the way for them. Young guys have to really trust the system & they’re not there yet, they don’t. Younger guys have to figure out everyone can play”.
Tennessee led 74-63 at the 4-minute mark, with Bowden draining consecutive 3-point shots. Pons blocking shots and Turner assisting seemed to be the theme late in the game. John Fulkerson played in foul trouble most of the second, but that didn’t stop his aggressive play underneath the basket.
“They did what being the leaders we needed them to be. Lamonte had to go the distance because of foul trouble, he was a warrior. Those guys were terrific, both of them”. Barnes said of his two senior leaders. We will now have to wait and see how Turner will respond when it comes to shooting the ball, as Tennessee moves on though the season.
The Vols wouldn’t have had a shot in the without the play of Pons, who had double-digits in the first. Tennessee went on a huge run late in the game, with a few huge blocks thrown in the mix from Pons.
When asked about Yves Pons three-point shooting, Barnes said “Yves, all through preseason since we started to stat, has been our best 3-point shooter, as hard of worker that we have. He didn’t practice the last two days, he tweaked his back. He was terrific, big shots”
In the end, Tennessee clamped down on the defensive front, holding Murray State to 19 points after halftime. Bowden finished the game with a career-high 26 points. Pons had a monster night, scoring a career-high 19 with four blocks and four rebounds. Though he didn’t light it up in scoring, Turner was key in the victory, with 14 assists, no turnovers and five points.
Lamonte Turner was aggressive when it came to his passing & attacking the rim. Barnes said “Lamonte does do a great job of playing to the rim, he’s a good layup maker. He’s having some problems with his shoulder, he’s such a tough warrior. He’s trying to deal with it, but he’s such a competitive person, he stays out there and fights though it.”
Though it started off slow for Tennessee, they came out in the second half and guarded the perimeter, also out-rebounding the Racers 25-12. Tennessee finished the game on a 16-0 run, out-scoring Murray State 47-19 after the break. The Vols will need more guys attacking the basket as they move forward, but tonight they got it done around the rim, behind the perimeter and with aggressive defense.
Rick Barnes complimented Bowden and Turner when it came to their lack of turnovers & aggressiveness on defense “What was most impressive with Lamonte & Jordan is that they guarded the other teams best two players. They did a tremendous job defensively in the 2nd half. They both played a well balanced game.”
Tennessee will travel to Toronto on Friday, as they prepare for a big matchup against the Washington Huskies on Saturday night. If the Vols are going to get the win in Canada, they’ve got to be more consistent for 40 minutes. Tonight though, this team showed they can fight back in many different ways, something they can build on for the future.