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Vols Take Care Of Rattlers, Await Memphis

Coming off a weekend split at the Emerald Coast Classic, No. 21 Tennessee was back on the court Wednesday night for a matchup with 0-6 Florida A&M.

Though it started off a bit slow, it didn’t take long for Tennessee to heat up around the paint.

After only leading 6-3 at the under-16 break, Tennessee started getting the baskets it needed from Yves Pons, John Fulkerson and Olivier Nkamhoua. It seems like the game plan was to attack the basket, trying to setup some kind of paint presence. Tennessee was determined to get the ball around the rim.

Pons came out in the first half with aggression, with 12 points and six rebounds. It wasn’t just his presence in the paint, Pons was giving up open looks behind the perimeter to drive the paint, which paid off at the free throw line, going 4-of-6. Lamonte Turner had 10 points and five assists, playing seventeen minutes.

Tennessee led 39-18 at halftime.

After playing most of the first half, Turner only played four minutes in the second half, giving him time to rest and allowing Josiah-Jordan James to get some action at point.

Tennessee got off to a slow start in the second, scoring only five points over the first six minutes. The Vols were still trying to attack the basket, with James running the offense most of the 2nd half. Rick Barnes said “Lamonte wasn’t feeling great before the game and in the second half, we decided to let the younger guys stick with it.”

As Tennessee started to expand the lead, it was Nkamhoua who took advantage of his 23 minutes of playing time. Nkamhoua grinded his way to a double-double on the night, with 11 points and 13 rebounds. His presence in the paint and the way he’s figuring out how to play around the rim should be a great sign for Tennessee fans. The young man is still working his way to more minutes, which the Vols will need, especially starting next week with Memphis.

Barnes said of Nkamhoua, “Yeah, he can do that, and I’ll still tell you guys, you haven’t seen what we know he can do. I don’t think he knows what he can do yet, and I keep saying that to him. I said ‘you don’t have a clue yet, the ability that you have and how you don’t use it’. He goes back, he doesn’t always get himself ready, and he doesn’t always know where he is on the court. If he would really learn the offense where he doesn’t have to think about where he’s going and what he’s doing, he’ll be a much better player. When he misses a shot, he beats himself up too much as opposed to getting on to the next play. These are the things where he’s got to grow up quickly, because we need him, and he alone can change our team with the ability that he has if he will buy into it.”

Another player who continues to impress is Davonte Gaines. The way he can pressure the ball on defense & force turnovers will get him key minutes off the bench. He continues to show improvement on both sides of the court. Gaines finished with 7 points & 4 rebounds in 20 minutes of action.

Rick Barnes discussed Davonte initiating the offense “He can. Throughout high school and his AAU season, he played the points up, and he’s got good ball skills. It’s all new, but he’s a guy that we’re confident in the fact that he’s going to work hard trying to do the right thing. He’s going to err on trying to do the right thing. He’s not going to be perfect, but he’s going to try to do the right thing, and he’s not afraid to bring the ball down the floor. He’s not afraid to handle the basketball”

Tennessee still has work to do in regards to turning over the basketball. The Vols finished with 15 turnovers on the night, which hampered the Vols offensively, not letting them get into a good flow. Barnes said “I didn’t like the turnovers, I thought we did a good job of getting it into the post. We never got the flow we wanted on offense because of turnovers.”

One area of the game Tennessee couldn’t seem to get going was three-point shooting. The Vols were 3-of-16 from behind the arc, which is why is was pivotal to feed the paint. Shooting 19 percent from 3-point range isn’t going to win you many games, but luckily for Tennessee, they found other ways to score. Turner only playing four minutes in the second half could’ve attributed to this a bit, but it was still a poor outing.

Barnes knows how key it is to have Fulkerson attacking the rim and getting good shots, something he took advantage if tonight with his 15 points and five rebounds. Fulky is such a key player in what this group is trying to achieve, so having him lead the Vols in points can only help his confidence.

Tennessee got 20 points from the bench, a stat that this group will have to continue building upon for future success. It’s pretty evident though that if Turner and Jordan Bowden aren’t on their game, Tennessee has to find creative ways to score. Wednesday was a great opportunity for the younger guys to expand their game. Triple-J is still feeling his way around running the offense, something he’ll be forced to do more this season.

Rick Barnes was asked about the freshman contributions “I thought it was good that they really got some quality minutes in. We haven’t had a chance to really put them out there where they could play through fatigue and mistakes. We haven’t been able to do what we wanted to try and get the ball inside to Olivier, Fulky and Yves a little bit more. We wanted to see if they could do something with it, but the fact that we got the freshman out there as much as we did; we needed to do that. They’ll learn some things from it, we still have to do a better job on offense, taking care of the ball, and giving ourselves a chance to do some of the things that we practiced. Tonight, I think the Freshman had 28 points and 23 rebounds, so that’s a good night for them.”

Tennessee needs James to take more shots. Though he finished with 10 points, there were a good amount of points left on the court. He’s being given every opportunity to find his shot, eventually it will come. But, if he can continue attacking the boards and drive the basket, he can continue helping this team out in the process.

So, a 72-43 win over Florida A&M was a nice step for some of Tennessee’s younger players, but business is about to pickup and they’re going to need some more of that “Thunder and Lightning”.

Buckle up folks, Memphis and Penny are coming to town.

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