KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The No. 13 Volunteers have now won 20 straight games at Thompson-Boling Arena, after beating McNeese State 76-40.
Fresh off of winning the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, the Volunteers had what may be their easiest matchup of the year against McNeese State who now falls to 2-6 on the season.
Despite this not being the same caliber matchup as their last game, where they defeated the defending champion Kansas Jayhawks, Tennessee brought the same defensive intensity for this game.
McNeese State played a 1-3-1 zone during the game, in the beginning of the game it gave the Vols big issues. When playing that type of coverage, the jump shooting must be on point. It wasn’t until a Vescovi three around the 10-minute mark that the Vols had over 10 points. In the first half, the Vols shot 34.6% from the field and 25% three.
“We didn’t let the fact that we weren’t very good on offense in the first half slow our defense down,” said Coach Rick Barnes.
The Vols held McNeese State to just 14 points in the first half. By the final buzzer, the Cowboys ended up with a 40-point tally, when they had averaged 72.3 points on the season.
Big plays on the defensive end would end up igniting Tennessee’s offense.
The man down low, a large part of the Vols’ defensive prowess was Sophomore Jonas Aidoo, who finished with 5 blocks on the night, a career-high. Aidoo led the Vols in rebounds with 6, tying Olivier Nkamhou.
“If you go here you gotta love defense,” Said Aidoo.
He certainly knows how to make Rick Barnes happy. It has been known for a long time that players must show effort and dedication on the defensive end to get consistent minutes. Aidoo has carved himself a high-impact role for the Vols, a true terror off the bench.
The Vols got great looks all night, capitalizing on the 24 turnovers that they forced. 10 of those were clean pickpockets. Zakai Ziegler, Santiago Vescovi, and Julian Phillips all tallied 2 steals.
Phillips also led the team in free throw attempts, going 5-8 from the line, something Coach Barnes really appreciated.
“We thought he was driving to get fouled instead of driving to score,” Coach Barnes said about the progress Phillips’ slashing has made.
Phillips has taken this advice to the next level. In the last five games, he is averaging 7.8 free throws, leading the team.
The 76-40 finish is exactly how you would expect a team like the Vols to play the middling McNeese State.
There’s not much to take away from this game, but seeing guys like Julian Phillips and Jonas Aidoo play with confidence has to get Knoxville excited. They are the glue to this team and will need to continue to perform at a high level if Tennessee wants to be taken seriously.
By the looks of it, Aidoo, Phillips, and the rest of the Volunteers have fully bought into their roles. This is all without senior standout Josiah-Jordan James, who has no timetable to return.
In the meantime, the Vols have two more home games before they hit the road to Brooklyn. They play Alcorn State this Sunday and Eastern Kentucky the following Wednesday at Thompson-Boling Arena.