Vols wear out Butler in more ways than one

Marvin Westwestwords

If it had time, Tennessee might learn to like Paradise Island, a beautiful setting in the Bahamas for basketball warfare.

The Vols started slowly in the Battle 4 Atlantis but the longer they played, the better they got. Two hot streaks, more muscle and superior depth wiped out the Butler Bulldogs, 71-45. It was the best performance of the young season for Rick Barnes’ team. He found very little to fuss about.

Challenge No. 2 is sleep fast and be ready for a Thanksgiving afternoon clash with Southern Cal. Barnes said assistant coaches had prepared scouting reports in advance.

A third game will be played on Friday, opponent and tipoff time to be determined.

Butler was plenty tough until it tired. Tennessee missed 11 of its first 16 shots. It scored just 11 points in the first 12 minutes. There were more bruises.

When Barnes says a game is physical, it is rugged times two. He used 6-8 prep all-American Julian Phillips to measure the combat.

“That was probably the toughest game of his life.”

The coach said the defense was outstanding, from start to finish. Butler shot 31.9 percent, season-low.

“We wore Butler down.”

Bulldogs coach Thad Matta said amen.

“Tennessee isn’t a good team; it is a great team.”

Guard Zakai Zeigler

Butler almost won the first half. An aggressive 10-0 Tennessee run changed the tone. The Vols took advantage of their size, went to the rim and shot layups and free throws. Jahmai Mashack’s second goal provided a 24-23 lead with 1:14 to go. A Zakai Zeigler free throw and his NBA three-pointer boosted the advantage to five.

The Vols were 1-for-7 on threes in the first half. Santiago Vescovi finally found the range, hit three and led the winners with 13 points. Phillips scored 11, Ziggy 10, Olivier Nkamhoua and Tyreke Key nine each. Uros Plavsic made a strong return from a sprained ankle.

Tennessee won the second half, 43-22. A 17-1 run midway through was the knockout.

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Josiah-Jordan James didn’t play. The knee that was repaired during the summer suddenly got sore. Barnes said he is questionable for Game 2.

James said he had a scope procedure and three sets of injections.

“I’m done with that.”

James played well in two of Tennessee’s first three games – 13.7 points, 52% from the field and 52.6% from the three-point line.

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Barnes did not miss the opportunity to do some coaching. He grumbled about seven missed free throws and the 16 turnovers.

“That’s not who we are.”

Zeigler had four. He had five assists, three steals and four rebounds.

The coach counted fouls and said reserves made significant contributions.

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USC defeated BYU, 82-76, to advance. ESPN2 will offer the Vols-Trojans telecast at 1:30 p.m.

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

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