By Justin Clemmer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – For the ninth time this season the Volunteers held their opponent to under 50 points as they got back to winning at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The number one defense in the country was on full display, they were incredible. The Vols once again started the game with a small lineup, with the only forwards being Olivier Nkamhoua paired with Julian Phillips.
With less rim protection and playing a perimeter-centric team like the Georgia Bulldogs, the defensive intensity was going to have to start from the backcourt. Zakai Ziegler, Santiago Vescovi, and Tyreke Key excelled.
Between Vescovi and Ziegeler, they had nine steals on the night. Five for Santiago Vescovi, which tied a career-high, and four for Zakai Ziegler.
The backcourt imposed its will on Georgia’s leading scorers Terry Roberts and Kario Oquendo. The duo combined for a mere 16 points on 8-24 shooting.
“When we see teams down it gives us more confidence,” said Ziegler.
When the frontcourt guards this well, it makes life for the big men so much easier.
Georgia was reluctant to go inside. 22 of their 55 shots were three-pointers. The Bulldogs only went to the line 12 times.
They struggled to get past Tennessee’s frontcourt and feared the tall trees down low. One of them being freshman Tobe Awaka, who complemented his defensive prowess with a career-high 10 points.
Awaka has grown so much as a player this year. Many know that it can be an uphill battle at times to see the floor as a freshman here at Tennessee, but he has earned himself a spot in Rick Barnes’s rotation.
Just like the defense, the scoring was incredibly balanced for the Vols. 10 different players scored. In a 70-point effort, the leading scorer, Zakai Ziegler, only notched 11 points.
“Offensively, when we’re moving the ball, sharing the ball, we’re at our best,” said Coach Barnes.
When everyone is playing with confidence, things like tonight will happen. Georgia is the third SEC opponent that the Vols have beaten by at least 20 points
Tennessee will gear up, as college gameday will once again come to Knoxville, this time to see basketball. The Vols will play No. 10 Texas, Saturday, Jan. 28 at 6:00 p.m. eastern time.