No. 13 Tennessee (7-2) will try to avoid a letdown when it plays its last “buy” game of the season, hosting South Carolina Upstate (2-7) on Tuesday.
The Volunteers certainly were on their game Saturday in a 76-36 victory over NC-Greensboro, forcing 25 turnovers and holding the Spartans to the lowest point total by a Tennessee opponent since 1983. The Vols were coming off a disappointing overtime loss to Texas Tech in New York.
“We felt like, in New York, we had some looks that we normally make,” coach Rick Barnes said afterward. “We also felt like we pressed on a few of them. We felt like we needed to get back to where we think we need to be and continue to get better for what we’re about to get into, going forward. I thought the way our guys came out and responded today was really good.”
After this game, the Volunteers will face disappointing Memphis at a neutral site in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday, and then host Arizona on Dec. 22. Then they will begin SEC play at Alabama on Dec. 29 and their only other nonconference game will be at powerful Texas on Jan. 29 as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
But other than a lackluster 80-69 win over Tennessee Tech on Black Friday, the Vols’ performance against non-power conference teams at home has been sharp, with four victories by an average of 35.5 points.
Tennessee forced 25 turnovers for the game against NC-Greensboro and shot 16-for-32 in the second half after a somewhat lackluster first half offensively.
“I think we’re still a work in progress on the offensive end,” Barnes said. “I think we get a little bit impatient at times. The style we play, we’ve got a lot of movement. We have a lot of different things that we’re trying to build. We play a lot of different styles depending on what the game folds into. I’ll be disappointed (and) I think our coaching staff and players will be disappointed if we don’t continue to move forward because we have to get better.”
“We pride ourselves a lot on defense,” said Zakai Zeigler, who is averaging 7.2 points off the bench, “so we know night in and night out teams are going to give us their best shot. We know no matter who we play, we’ve got to be locked in defensively.”
USC Upstate, which is led by Bryson Mozone (13.6 points), has a negative assist-to-turnover ratio (112-129), and thus the Spartans could have the same problem as the NC-Greensboro Spartans did. USC Upstate shot only 32.8 percent in a 79-53 loss at Wake Forest on Saturday.
USC Upstate coach Dave Dickerson praised 6-8 senior Josh Aldrich (5.3 points, 5.0 rebounds) after he scored 11 points in a loss to North Carolina Central on Dec. 1, saying, “He’s just now getting to his peak. We need him to play that way.”
But since then, Aldrich has had 14 rebounds but only two points in losses to Western Carolina and Wake Forest.
–Field Level Media