Saturday afternoon provided an opportunity for the No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers to start conference play on a good note. Not only did they get their first SEC win of the year, they absolutely embarrassed rival Georgia to the tune of 96-50.
Eleven players scored and a total of 14 made the box score. A familiar face returned to the rotation and a couple of role players made played exceptionally well. Here is what we learned from the annihilation of the Bulldogs:
Return of Lamonte
Fans have anxiously been awaiting the return of Junior Lamonte Turner. The reigning SEC Sixth Man of the Year hasn’t seen action since the Eastern Kentucky game back in November. Five minutes into the game against Georgia, Turner’s number was called as he entered play before a standing ovation.
While his absence hasn’t impeded Tennessee’s progress, it is clear that his minutes and shot-making ability will be needed going forward. Saturday’s platform was the perfect opportunity for Turner to get acclimated.
Despite having trouble finding his shot, Turner was able to log valuable minutes and find the bucket in the form of drives. He finished with 6 points while going 2-for-2 from the charity stripe. The junior not only struggled with his touch, he also picked up four fouls in 15 minutes.
Yet through all the complications, Turner remained aggressive. More importantly, his teammates were the most excited to see him play out of the 21,000-plus that were in Thompson-Boling Arena. The return of Turner likely means he is finally ready to play despite the uncomfortable condition of his shoulder.
Will he be back to last season’s form?
He doesn’t have to be Sixth Man of the Year to help this team hang banners. He just needs to spell the guard position and be comfortable. His performance on Saturday proved he is willing and ready to make that attempt.
Bowden Pulls Through
One of the few blemishes on the season for the Vols has been the inconsistency of junior Jordan Bowden. While most of his numbers still hover around his career averages, the need for Bowden to elevate his game is crucial for Tennessee considering Turner’s situation.
The start of Tennessee’s match against Georgia seemed to indicate that Bowden’s woes would continue. He missed his first two shots and committed a turnover while being substituted multiple times in the opening minutes. He went 8-of-11 the rest of the way, beginning at the 13:30 mark in the first half.
The 20-point outing wasn’t his career-high, but his performance against Georgia was a good indication that he is capable of more production. He eclipsed the 20 mark twice before: once against Presbyterian his freshman year and once against Furman last season. The 20 points he scored against the Bulldogs was his career-best in SEC play.
What stood out the most was Bowden’s determination to score. Not only has he struggled with being a consistent threat from the outside, he has been inconsistent finding the bucket, period. The Knoxville native went scoreless from the field against Wake Forest and Tennessee Tech.
The guard was patient Saturday while stars Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield shined. He carefully picked his spots by utilizing pins near the elbow and cuts around the rim. The aggressive drives coupled with hustle on defense during Saturday’s feast indicate that Bowden is determined to score from anywhere on the court. This is a good sign for the Vols.
Alexander The Great
While junior guard Jordan Bone is likely the most improved Vol this season, Kyle Alexander is trying to make a case for himself during the last season of his career.
Alexander came into his senior year with an already impressive career field goal percentage just under 60 percent. So far this season, Alexander is an astounding 68.4 percent from the field.
With his lean body and athleticism, the former soccer player is able to run the floor with the best big men in the country. On Saturday, Alexander was running ahead and around Georgia’s defense.
The Canadian’s greatest strides have come from the rebounding department. His second double-double of this season also marked the seventh time he has recorded seven or more rebounds during his senior campaign. Alexander doesn’t need to post double-doubles every game, but if he continues to rebound with authority his lack of girth won’t be an issue.
Tennessee’s elder statesman has simply been steady and efficient. His PER this season is up to 21 according to Sports-Reference. That is four points higher than his career average. To put this stat in perspective, Schofield’s PER is less than two points higher (22.9). Williams efficiency rating is not fair for comparison. But just as curiosity killed the cat, Williams kills the competition with efficiency. His PER is 34.1. For those wondering, that is beyond insane.
While Williams and Schofield receive proper credit, Alexander’s impact shouldn’t go unnoticed. Expect the senior to continue to impress against a conference that lacks elite power on the blocks.
Essentially, everyone was able to contribute to the dismantling of Georgia. Most importantly, a missing link has returned and key role players showed that they are ready for the SEC slate.
The Vols continue SEC play against Missouri on Tuesday in Columbia, Mo.