By Keon Rose
Tennessee took on a hot 3-1 Butler team and while they answered many questions in their dominating victory over Florida Gulf Coast a week ago, they needed to string together multiple games of high performance basketball. The Vols delivered again on the eve of Thanksgiving cruising to a 71-45 win over the Butler Bulldogs in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
Tennessee is back in action against the USC Trojans today at 1:30 pm on ESPN 2.
Here are 5 takeaways from Tennessee’s impressive performance against Butler.
Second Half Vescovi
Santiago Vescovi led all scorers for his Tennessee squad with 13 points. What’s particularly noteworthy about those 13 points is that he scored all of them in the second half. His offense and willingness to take tough shots sparked a second half run from the Vols that buried Butler completely. At halftime the score was 28-23 with Butler’s defense holding Tennessee in check. Vescovi’s scoring outburst propelled the Vols to a great shooting half where they shot 53% from the field
The defense strikes again
It’s fair to say that coming into this season a lot of Vols fans were excited about what the offense of this team could produce. The results so far are mixed at best. The defense however is another story. Tennessee has held all of their opponents so far this season to 36% from the field. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Butler struggled to score. The Bulldogs shot an abysmal 31% from the field and an even worse 21% from deep. Add Butler to the list as another victim of Tennessee’s defensive effort.
Julian Phillips stepped up big time
Julian Phillips, Tennessee’s freshman forward, saw 27 minutes of playing time and left a very strong impression. Aside from being the second leading scorer on the night after Santiago Vescovi with 11 points he was also the top rebounder on the night grabbing 6 boards. He was able to more than adequately replace the production of Josiah-Jordan James who was out with knee soreness. James, a senior, averages 13 points and 6 rebounds a game. That Julian Phillips could make a similar contribution when his number was called is a testament to the depth of this Volunteer team.
Zeigler remains impressive from the bench
Zakai Zeigler looked good against Florida Gulf Coast in his new role as sixth man. He followed that up with an even more impressive performance pouring in 10 points from the bench and dishing out 5 assists. Zeigler was heavily criticized by Rick Barnses earlier in the year but really seems to shine coming off of the bench. He plays with more command of the offense and is more willing to play in structure. Both of those things could allow him to become a starter again in the future.
A game of two runs
Tennessee had two decisive runs in the game that really sealed the deal. They began a 10-0 run with about 5 minutes left in the first half, silencing Butler and giving them a halftime lead. Then in the middle of the second half they went on a 17-1 run that put the Bulldogs away for good. If Tennessee continues to combine their offensive potential with lockdown defense then timely runs could be a true advantage that they have throughout the rest of the season. Coach Barnes would probably prefer more consistency but it’s a nice ace to have up their sleeves while the offense sorts itself out.