It wasn’t easy but what a win

Marvin Westwestwords

Tennessee talking points …

Big difference home and away: 82-53 romp in Knoxville, 70-59 struggle in Starkville.

Health and welfare report: Two starters sidelined, leading scorer Santiago Vescovi with a re-injured left shoulder and second-best ball-handler Tyreke Key with illness. Oh my.

Do you believe those three-point shots? Tennessee hit eight of nine after intermission.

Kentucky rebounders were dominant on Saturday? This time the Vols won the battle of the backboards.

What did Rick Barnes say? “What a win!” After that, he said “What a win” again.

Brief pregame conversation between coaching staff and Zakai Zeigler:

Coach 1: You’re starting.

Ziggy: OK.

Coach 2: You may have to go all 40.

Ziggy: OK.

Coach 1: Take control.

Ziggy: OK.

The half-size guard prefers to watch a few minutes before joining the fray. He’s serious. His actions speak louder than words. This start was sloppy. Tennessee endured five or six no-hit minutes. Zeigler had five early turnovers – FIVE!

Zeigler and the other guys didn’t appear to be acquainted, much less close friends and business associates. There was a time when the Vols had twice as many turnovers (six) as they had field goals.

Rick Barnes squirmed but his options were limited. Mississippi State surged ahead by 19-10 with 6:48 left in the half.

Eventually, Tennessee started to get organized. God got involved. A net came loose from a rim and the Vols enjoyed a long rest while high-tech staffers searched for a replacement and got it installed.

Ziggy finally found a hot streak. That touched off a small sideshow. State students tried to distract him. Bad idea. They got a taste of friendly taunting each time he hit another basket. He had four threes, 16 points in the second half, and a career high 24 in the game.

Ziggy was a little much for the students who didn’t have portable translators. Could be New York and Mississippi people really don’t speak the same language.

The Vols got even at 23 just before halftime. The 13-4 rally changed the tone of the game. The Bulldogs had played reasonably well and had nothing to show for the effort.

Tennessee won the second half by 11. Shooters excelled. They hit an unbelievable eight of nine three-point shots (10 for 24 overall). They hit 14 of 15 free throws. They were boldly better at rebounding. Olivier Nkamhoua gathered nine.

Freshman Julian Phillips was a star – 18 points and 11 rebounds. Ziggy eliminated turnovers. Josiah-Jordan James did some of everything – played excellent defense, scored 13 and had an assist or two and a steal. Jonas Aidoo scored just one point but had four rebounds and three blocks. Vescovi stood and cheered.

Barnes had an interesting observation about playing short-handed and the net that came loose.

“Big break. Long rest.”

The coach said the Vols showed great character. He said it would have been a hard game even if everybody was available. Teams don’t look forward to playing Mississippi State “because they do play hard.”

Ziggy sees it just a little differently.

“I like it on the road. I like the back and forth with the students. It’s just a friendly, little rivalry.”

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected].

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