By Keon Rose
Tennessee basketball ground out a victory in the Bahamas on Thanksgiving day holding off the USC Trojans 73-66 in overtime. While many Vols will be thankful for the victory, it was no walk in the park. In a game with tons of twists and turns this Tennessee team proved they can win close games as well as blowouts.
Tennessee advances to the Battle 4 Atlantis and will take on #3 ranked Kansas on ESPN at 7:30 pm tonight.
Here are 5 takeaways from Tennessee’s close win over the Trojans
The offense really struggled
Most of the takeaways from this game are positive. It was a win after all, but there are some concerns worth noting in addition to the things that went right for the Vols. The most obvious concern has to be the offense. Yes, the Vols have injuries. Yes, they played a tough defensive opponent in the USC Trojans. However the fact that Tennessee shot 35% from the field and 16% from deep should set off at least some alarm bells. The offense should round into form as the season progresses but the struggles are worth keeping an eye on.
The Vols got to the charity stripe
USC shot better than Tennessee from the field and still lost to the Volunteers because Tennessee got to the free throw line early and often. They were aggressive attacking the basket and drew fouls on USC, in large part because the Trojans seemingly had no answers for the size and physical play that Tennessee displayed. Tennessee made 22 of their 26 free throws, compared to just 7 of 8 for USC and that was enough to turn the battle in Tennessee’s favor.
Julian Phillips is big time…again
Josiah-Jordan James was out again with knee soreness and with no clear time table for his return, it’s good news that freshman Julian Phillips has absolutely been balling in his absence. Phillips led the team with 25 points. His willingness to get to the basket set the tone for the entire game. He’s a huge part of the reason Tennessee was so effective from the free throw line to begin with. Phillips had 10 of the Vols 22 made shots from the free throw line all by himself. It’s obvious that his size and scoring ability present a real problem for opposing defenses, and USC in particular had no answers for him.
The defense converted turnovers into points
Aside from free throw shooting, another way the Vols completely dominated the game was forcing turnovers and then immediately converting them into points. USC had 19 turnovers in the ball game, 12 of which were steals by Tennessee. The Vols opportunistic defense generated 25 points from turnovers. Tennessee’s defense looked to jump passing lanes and generally make life difficult for USC’s ball handlers and the results for Rick Barnes’ squad should speak for themselves. The defense continues to be the strength of this team.
Separation in overtime
Teams clam up in overtime all the time. We’ve all seen it. What’s more, teams in Tennessee’s position, the ranked team with lofty expectations, clam up even more in the extra period. The pressure gets to some of these teams and they get beaten by a team they’re better than in a pressure packed situation. That’s not what happened to the Vols. If anything they played better when it mattered most. Santiago Vescovi shook off a poor shooting performance to hit the go-ahead shot from long range. Zakai Zeigler knocked down all 4 of his free throws to seal the deal. Tennessee made their biggest shots and sharpest plays in the final frame when they needed it most. That toughness has become a big part of their identity and it’s coming at the right time.