Key, Phillips lead Vols in Dominant Win over Easter Kentucky

Photo By Emma Ramsey/Tennessee Athletics
By Tucker Harlin

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — No. 7 Tennessee won its seventh straight game with an 84-49 win over Eastern Kentucky in Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday.

Tyreke Key led the way for the Volunteers (8-1) with 17 points, followed by freshman Julian Phillips’ double-double of 16 and 10. Zakai Zeigler, Uros Plavsic, and Olivier Nkamhoua also finished in double figures for Tennessee.

The first half was less than desirable for lovers of offense. Both the Vols and the Colonels combined for an abysmal 14-63 from the field and Eastern Kentucky finished the first half 1-10 from the field in the last 2:15.

“My college coach believed in the perfect game, I don’t think there’s ever been one,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “We all like to think that guys can make shots and this and that, but when the shots aren’t going in you’ve got to find a way to play. This was a game where you don’t learn offense, you play it.”

Tennessee’s first-half offensive woes can be attributed to the Colonels’ intense full-court press, but ultimately the Vols’ defense kept Tennessee up 11 at the break.

“The first thing that we always talk about is our defense,” Barnes said. “Are we rebounding the ball? We believe we can be tough and hard-nosed on the defensive end and rebound the ball on both ends and we’ll find a way.”

The second half was a more visually appealing half as the Vols were able to hang 52 on the Colonels. The primary catalyst for this offensive performance was Key, scoring the first seven points of the half and showing the aggression that Barnes demanded from him.

“He’s never been asked to handle the ball the way we’re asking him to do it here,” Barnes said. “With Santi being out and Josiah being out, we need guys that we can rely on to handle the ball. He hasn’t settled into the role that he will eventually play, but I think it’s been really good for him.”

Key did leave the game with what looked to be a lower-body injury in the second half and did not return, however, Key confirmed that it was just a cramp and nothing more.

Tennessee’s next matchup will come in the Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational against No. 13 Maryland in Brooklyn, New York. The Terps are also 8-1, their lone loss coming this week on the road against Wisconsin.