Toppling Tide was mostly effort, extra effort

Marvin Westwestwords

Tennessee fans, almost all of 2l,678, provided thunderous support, a tremendous atmosphere at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Volunteers responded with terrific effort. Rick Barnes was so proud, he used “effort” eight times in his post-game remarks.

Defense was the difference. Jahmai Mashack was an example. He didn’t score but made the beautiful game of basketball very difficult for freshman all-American Brandon Miller.

Knocking off a No. 1 team is a relatively rare feat. One young fan brought the faith. She had a homemade sign which said “Just like football.”

And just like in football, Tennessee celebrated by playing “Dixieland Delight” on the public address system.

How do we guard this, coach? Olivier Nkamhousa #13 goes high to score in Tennessee’s 68-59 win over Alabama.

Tennessee put down Alabama, 68-59, the first Southeastern Conference loss for the high Tide, now 12-1. The Vols made amends for consecutive buzzer-beater setbacks and three defeats in the previous four games.

Zakai Zeiger delivered 15 points and eight assists. He had no turnovers.

Jonas Aidoo, in his third start, had a double-double – 12 points and 11 rebounds. He influenced several shots and blocked three.

Santiago Vescovi scored 15 (12 in the second half). He missed a free throw with a minute and change remaining. My first thought was this business of history repeating itself has to end.

It did. He hit the next five. He had eight rebounds.

Uros Plavsic had 10 points and Olivier Nkamhoua added nine.

Fame is fleeting. Tyreke Key, shooting star in the second-half comeback against Missouri, hit one of nine against the Tide. Tennessee, collectively, shot 36.5 percent – a little low to be gunning down the top-ranked foe.

Miller, Alabama standout, scored 15 and pulled 10 rebounds – but not against Mashack. He is 6-4 but plays much bigger. He played defense for 27 minutes. Miller scored four points. Miller is 6-9.

This is effort: Vol guards Jahmai Mashack #15 and Santiago Vescovi #25 leave the Alabama ball handler with no place to go.

“We keep telling our guys that they have to find a way to impact the game without scoring … the intangibles that Shack brings, you gotta have it on the court. … I told him the other day, ‘From this point on, you’re not taking a back seat to anybody.’’’

Defense? Alabama had 19 turnovers. Alabama shot 35.6 percent.

“We told our guys that every player they put on the floor is a guard, capable of handling the ball. We’ve been working on it for a month with our guards, with our post guys,” said Barnes.

He wanted everybody to be ready to guard anybody.

“Just some incredible defensive intensity and effort by a lot of guys. There wasn’t one guy that went in that didn’t help win this game.

“What a performance. Every player found a way to make plays. And Alabama is a great team.”

Tennessee might have had a little edge in coaching. Barnes and his staff worked overtime on the game plan. Assistant Gregg Polinsky provided the scouting report that made life difficult for Tide guards. They found it hard to run the offense. Vols blocked passing lanes. Alabama often struggled to get the ball in-bounds. It appeared Volunteers knew where Tide players were going before they started.

Barnes praised assistants but kept going back to player effort.

“Effort was the best you could ask. I am so proud.”

Barnes doesn’t pat himself on the back all that much but he believes he helped beat Alabama with the way he handled the loss to Missouri.

“I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve seen a lot of things. And what they did Saturday, they guarded. Missouri made some terrific shots.

“I told them I was extremely proud of their effort and if we’ll continue to do that, we’ll find a way. I said it’s about us, as long as we’ll stay together.

“It was just an incredible effort in the way they fought against Alabama. Really, it’s what we’re going to have to do from here on out. Our schedule, it’s pretty back-loaded heavy (at Kentucky is next).”

Barnes noted that the Vols didn’t splinter after the losses.

“I think it’s the quality of players we recruit. I think the fact that there’s a foundation. I think the effort that goes into every day with our assistant coaches, our graduate assistants, our support people. Our players know how much we care about them.

“I obviously can be tough with them. I do know that they love this program and they’ve taken great pride in the work they’ve put into it. I just think it speaks volumes about their character as individuals. They really do care about each other.”

Those are components of big victories. It would help to get Josiah-Jordan James and Julian Phillips off the injured list. They could provide extra effort.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is


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