Before you ask, McNeese State is from Lake Charles, Louisiana. This was the Cowboys’ first visit to Big Orange Country. They may not come back. They lost, 76-40.
This mismatch attracted 15,927 paying customers. It was purchased as a fix-it game for Tennessee – just in case the tournament in the Bahamas went bad. It didn’t.
McNeese didn’t do much for Tennessee’s strength of schedule but it helped extend the Vols’ home winning streak to 20. The Cowboys gave good effort and conducted a little clinic on how to play zone defense.
Tennessee had more athletes, more size and the switching man-to-man was outstanding. McNeese scored 14 in the first half. There were times when it looked like there were seven or eight Vols in the way.
The visitors shot 28 percent, hit two of 17 long shots and lost 24 turnovers.
Tennessee shot 42.6, hit 11 of 29 threes and lost 11 turnovers.
Santiago Vescovi had an interesting collection of numbers. He led the Vols with 16 points. He missed 16 shots. He had five rebounds, three assists, two steals and blocked a shot. Vescovi is 6-3.
Tennessee accumulated only two more rebounds than McNeese State. Christian Shumate got a dozen, same as top Vols Olivier Nkamhoua and Jonas Aidoo combined.
Aidoo thought he played “pretty well but there is always room for improvement.”
He heard that from Rick Barnes.
“He coaches me hard. He wants me to be the best that I can be.”
Barnes is seldom totally satisfied.
“He’s getting better. He’s going to have to get quicker with the ball. I told him, when you’re out there with four guards, we don’t need a fifth jump-shooter, we need someone that is going to do something close to the rim. He’s a factor on defense close to the rim and he should be a factor on offense close to the rim.”
Aidoo blocked five shots.
Barnes found other flaws, even in a 36-point romp. The Vols missed 15 free throws.
Coaches talked at length about what to do about the McNeese zone.
“We wanted to be aggressive, we wanted to run, use tempo. We wanted to play quicker. McNeese did exactly what we talked about for two days. They do a great job of it. When you play as much zone as they play, they know how to make adjustments to what you’re doing.”
Barnes wanted the Vols in shooting position before the Cowboys got their defense set. That didn’t happen in the first half. The coach explained it again at intermission. Tennessee accuracy improved to 50 percent in the second half.
“One thing we did, we didn’t let the fact that we weren’t very good on offense in the first half affect our defense. I thought our effort defensively was good throughout – well, for the most part.”
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected].