These are tough times for Rick Barnes. The Volunteers are playing so well, the coach is searching for things to coach.
Olivier Nkamhoua tried to help. He reviewed his statistical summary from Saturday at South Carolina: 10 for 10 as a shooter and 10 rebounds.
He found a flaw.
“I had two turnovers.”
The Vols had a slightly sensational first half (43-21 lead, 62.5 on three-pointers) and were good enough after the rest stop to totally discourage the Gamecocks, 85-42.
More colorful writers said the Vols “roasted” the Gamecocks and “scalded them” with the very hot offense and filleted them with clinical defensive blades. Poor Gamecocks.
Tennessee really was dominating on defense. Gregory (GG) Jackson II, 6-9, supposedly the best young player in the country, failed to score and gathered but one rebound on behalf of the home team.
The victory margin was the third largest on the road in UT basketball history, largest since 1965 (96-50 at Ole Miss).
Something similar happened on Tuesday. Mississippi State was among national leaders on defense until it stopped at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee hit 69.2% and 57.1% on threes. The Bulldogs lost, 87-53.
This one was easier. Tennessee surged ahead, 22-5, in the first eight minutes. South Carolina hit one of 11 and benefitted from a goal-tending whistle.
Meechie Johnson generated a hint of life for the home team. Santiago Vescovi hit a 35-footer for the 22-point halftime spread.
The second half was much the same until Tennessee misplaced its shooting touch and spoiled the overall percentage by missing 14 of its final 18 shots.
In partnership with Nkamhoua’s 21 points, Jonas Aidoo had a career-high 15 with a surprising pair of threes. Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James had 12 points each. Zakai Zeigler had eight assists.
UT held the Gamecocks to 25% shooting and 4-for-26 on 3-pointers.
Barnes took part credit for Nkamhoua’s 10 rebounds (the Vols won the backboard battle, 48-21).
After the game against Mississippi State, the Vols were breaking down video and the coach said, for all to hear, that Olivier had one rebound in 39 minutes over two games.
“I’m telling you, we had two hard practices after that and he really went at it. I’m so happy for him, that it paid off for him today. It just goes to show that this game gives you back what you put into it.”
Nkamhoua said Barnes was correct to do some serious coaching.
“My job is to rebound. It should not be a surprise to anybody if I get some rebounds. Coach is right to challenge me. I can’t have games back-to-back where I am not rebounding the ball.”
Generally speaking, Barnes had nothing to fret about.
“We wanted to really try to make it difficult for South Carolina to score … overall it was a great effort … a lot of good things, obviously.
“We keep talking about how we can get better. Really happy that Josiah (Jordan James) is working his way back in, shooting the ball the way he is. I thought Julian (Phillips) was good. Overall, there were really a lot of good things.”
Barnes was asked how Tennessee shut out Carolina’s super freshman, GG Jackson.
“This time of year, it’s all scouting reports … we gave them all great respect coming in … we knew that he leads them in scoring and rebounding … we had to pin a target on him … we knew we were guarding a good player and we tried to do everything we could to make him have a tough game.”
Barnes said these Vols are workers and that they deserve their 13-2 record.
“I think they are smart enough to know we have to get better. … think they understand we just now are starting to put our team together with everybody.”
The coach was talking about the return of JJJ, rapid improvement by Aidoo and probably how much Tobe Awaka is adding …
“Overall, these guys bring it. What you see from Santi and Zakai and Jahmai Mashack, what you see in games, they do every day. Those guys have been around long enough to know that we have to get better and how important practices are.”
Expect home games this week to be more challenging – Vanderbilt at 9 on Tuesday, unpredictable Kentucky at noon on Saturday.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is email@example.com.