By Keon Rose
Tennessee bounced back from their first loss of the season against Colorado with a dominant 81-50 win against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. The win was expected but not an outright certainty after the way they struggled against Colorado. That loss led to head coach Rick Barnes criticizing the team and point guard Zakai Zeigler in particular.
The Vols responded in this “get right” game just in time to focus on Butler next week in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
Here are 5 takeaways from the dominant victory:
Defense, defense, defense.
Tennessee held FGCU to just 30% shooting from the field. The Vols used their length and athleticism to frustrate the Eagles shooters. They also were active with their hands, jumping passing lanes and creating offense from their defense with 4 out of 5 starters registering at least one steal and Santiago Vescovi coming away with 3 of his own. Tennessee put the clamps on in the first half and built their lead by holding the Eagles scoreless for a 5 minute stretch that FGCU never recovered from.
Dominating the Paint
Coach Rick Barnes said he wanted his team to be an inside-out team offensively and it showed. Tennessee outscored FGCU 28-14 in the paint and dominated the glass securing 11 offensive rebounds of their total 41 boards on the night. The Vols never allowed the Eagles to get comfortable around the basket and it resulted in a number of bad shots for visitors.
Zakai Zeigler the sixth man?
Much was made about Rick Barnes’ public criticism of his point guard and it had fans wondering just how Zakai Zeigler would respond. With the lineup shuffled around, Zakai responded admirably. Barnes previously described Zakai as “wild” and “out of control” but coming off the bench might be the right spot for Zakai who was a spark plug for the squad. The sophomore took care of the basketball and poured in 6 points and grabbed 6 boards. Playing like that is a sure fire way to get out of the dog house with the head coach.
Nkamhoua and James set the tone.
Josiah-Jordan James’ return to the starting lineup was much needed as Rick Barnes moved away from Zeigler as his starter. James put up 18 points including 4 shots from long range. Olivier Nkamhoua also added 18 points, scoring efficiently and forcing the issue to get some opportunities at the free throw line. He’s probably the Vols best bet to score in the event they ever go cold again from 3 point range like they did against Colorado.
They Just Shot Better
Every jump shooting team’s nightmare is exactly what happened to the Vols when they faced Colorado. They turned the ball over more than they would have liked. They shot an abysmal 25% from the field which included 27% shooting from deep. In short, not good. The remedy? Tennessee shot the ball better. They took better shots and knocked down open looks when they were there. The result was a team more recognizable as the Tennessee Volunteers that we’re familiar with. Shooting 50% from the field won’t happen every game but it was more than a nice bounce back. It gave Tennessee some much needed confidence back.