KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The No. 8 Volunteers got right back in the win column Wednesday night, making quick work of the Austin Peay Governors in their last game before Christmas Break, winning 86-44.
The Vols wasted no time. In the first half, they were quick and imposing, not allowing a made field goal nearly nine minutes into the game. By that time, the Volunteers were up by 16.
Early contributions from Olivier Nkamhou and Santiago Vescovi catapulted Tennessee en route to a 30-point lead at the half, 52-22. Nkamhou and Vescovi had the hot hand early, both scoring 12 points in the first half.
Nkamhoua, who had 16 in his last outing against Arizona, notched 20 points adding five rebounds and five assists. His touch in the low-post area continues to stand out.
Vescovi followed right behind him with 18 points, hitting all five of his three-point attempts, and adding five assists and three steals. A great sign for Vescovi, who has been in a shooting slump recently.
“Yesterday we were doing some different things to try to get him some separation,” said coach Rick Barnes. “We said hey, you gotta shoot it, you gotta shoot it. You know what, didn’t shoot it great in practice, but today at shoot around, every time I looked he was making shots. Just, again, him, that part of it, he affects the game in so many different ways.”
The team as a whole shot it very well, 56.3% from the field and 44.4% from three.
Ball movement was key tonight. Time and time again the frontcourt and the backcourt were in harmony. Well-timed entry passes allowed the bigs to get easy looks and the bigs were keeping their heads on a swivel, setting the guards up for success as they made easy reads on the perimeter.
“I thought the tempo was good,” said Coach Barnes. “We were efficient, our guards are getting better at getting the ball to our post players and the post players are getting better at coming and getting the ball.”
Then there was the gritty side of the game, Rick Barnes’ style of play.
Tennessee’s rebounding was fantastic. Freshman Tobe Awaka nabbed 11 boards, followed by Jonas Aidoo’s nine, both career highs. Awaka and Aidoo are emerging as a tough duo off the bench.
“I think 80% of it is just the will to get it,” said Awaka. “It’s really just a want [thing] to just go get the ball.”
Even Sophomore guard Jahmai Mashack had a ‘want’ for the ball, he had five rebounds, three of them being off Tennessee misses.
The entire Vols team took advantage of their size, which they multiplied by their effort, as they out-rebounded Austin Peay 47-26.
Rick Barnes’ squad continues to prove why they have the best defensive rating in the nation. For the eighth time this season, Tennessee held their opponent to under 50 points. Austin Peay was another victim tonight, shooting 25.5% from the field and 19.2% from three.
“We’ve been able to defend without fouling,” Coach Barnes said. “Our guys have done a good job at getting into gaps early.”
Both teams had a low free throw output, Austin Peay shot 14 while Tennessee shot 12.
Now it’s time for the Vols to relax and enjoy their Christmas break. Their present? SEC play, which starts next Wednesday, Dec. 28., as they visit the 8-4 Ole Miss Rebels.