Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics
Tennessee trailed at halftime for the first time in conference play against instate rival Vanderbilt Tuesday. Then the Vols used an early second half run to take control of the game and coast to their 11th straight win over their instate rival.
Vanderbilt scored 39 first half points — the most anyone has against Tennessee in the opening half this season — before the Vols’ elite defense returned in the second half and held the Commodores to just 33% shooting from the field.
The Vols used a balanced offensive performance with multiple players hitting shots in a 77-point — 1.22 points per possession — performance.
Here’s everything eighth-year coach Rick Barnes said about the win.
More From RTI: Three Quick Takeaways On Tennessee’s Win Over Vanderbilt
On what went wrong defensively in the second half
“Well, I’ve said it, and I think every time we play against Vanderbilt it proves what I’ve always said about them. Jerry Stackhouse, he’s a terrific coach. His guys execute. They don’t turn the ball over. They don’t beat themselves. When they’re making shots, like any team, it makes everything better for everybody when they’re making shots. But really proud of our team in the second half. I thought we came out, played better. We had to. Going into this game, I thought it would be this type of game. Every time we play them, it’s a grind. I know our guys have terrific respect for them. We broke down a couple times in the first half, with our scouting report, where we left over help. Left some guys that we shouldn’t leave. You look at Liam Robbins, he did a lot of things. He got the ball where he wanted it, for the most part, and finished it. Their second-chance points in the first half was a huge difference in the game, to start with. Second half I think they only got six of those. We had to play better in the second half and we did. But there are so many things that we have to get better with.”
On Zakai Zeigler having 27 assists over his last three games
“I think he’s getting better. I mean, he’s a year and a half into his college career. He’s learning because he’s never been what I think he would tell you is a natural point guard. He’s always been a scorer. It’s what he has been asked to do. So he’s learning to play. It’s exciting to think how much better he can get. Because at the end of the game, for instance, he has to manage that better. He went down, got his shot blocked, knowing that there was seven-foot guy that was in the lane all night, that wasn’t leaving the lane. I think he slowed up and thought it was going to be easy. But again, Liam Robbins made a terrific play there. At the end of the game, the turnovers he had, they weren’t necessarily on him because some of those passes led to turnovers for certain. He’s going to get better because he works, he wants to get better, he knows he needs to get better. We need him to.”
On Julian Phillips being more assertive
“I thought he moved better without the ball. I thought he was making more than one cut, stopping and playing. The first play of the game he made a great what we call a marine cut, he came back off the money pin down and kept going, got going downhill. That’s a big thing for him. He made a great effort to get on the glass. Defensively he’s working. They got him tonight coming out of a timeout, but you’ve got to give it to them. He was up, we knew had to defend the 3-point line, but they set him up with another good call by Coach Stackhouse. And scored quickly. In those situations you can’t let teams come down and score that quickly out of a timeout. I think Julian, again, he’s still just getting started. The more he plays the more I think we’ll see him continue to assert himself offensively.”
On the progress of Uros Plavsic in recent games
“His biggest thing is we need him to play defense and rebound. And he’s going to have to be good on ball-screen defense. They do a terrific job. They got us a number of times tonight where, again, they’re well-coached. I don’t know if anyone ball-screens better than these guys. In terms of knowing what they’re looking for, get it where they want it. We told him he needed to get better there. We told him he was going to have to rebound. But the biggest thing too offensively is knowing his space on the floor, where he’s got to get. And get there and expect him to be aggressive. Like tonight, he got a dunk blocked. He’s got to finish those. He did a terrific job tonight, again, playing against a really good player. For the most part, we’re not going to shut people out that are as skilled as Liam Robbins is in there. I thought he made him work. But the fact is, going up and making the free throws, I think he act like he was very confident when he did it. But we need all our post guys to continue to be more aggressive and continue to fight for their space in the lane. Our ball-screen defense has got to get better. It’s got to.”
On Tennessee’s response in the second half
“The start of the first half, I think you have to give a lot of credit to Vandy. They got down, they didn’t flinch either. Every time I’ve coached against Coach Stackhouse, their teams stay in it. They’re not going to quit. Honestly they’ve got a lot of his personality, where they’re going to fight you every step they can and will. But our veterans in the first half I didn’t think were very good. The last play in the first half was one of the worst plays since I’ve been here. Let somebody, with that time on the clock, drove the ball the length of the floor and nobody stopped the ball. That can’t happen. That was a really bad play. I’ll see it again here in a little bit. I just thought early, our veterans, from a defensive standpoint, from a scouting report, had some breakdowns that they can’t have early in a game. I thought we were better defensively, obviously, in the second half.”
On how Tennessee changed the tempo and opened the second half strong
“We try to run. We want to some explosive plays and what that is to us is if we can get down the court and get something done in really the first seven seconds. Our wings did a good job running tonight. We got some of those baskets and then when we are organized we’re a good offensive team. It’s when we;re not organized and when we don’t listen, we’re not a heavy ball screen team and when we’re doing some of that I thought they were prepared to double which they do. Our tempo is important. We need to get out and run like we did tonight and get some of those. We like to live in transition is what we do. Whether we get the early surge, if not we want to flow and keep pressure. We just want to keep going that way and there’s no doubt we’re better. Some teams will try and slow you down by getting you in deep possessions but Vanderbilt is another team if you let them get out in the open court they’re really good. They’re lethal and they’ll make you pay. Which they did a couple times tonight but otherwise they’re just so disciplined offensively and if you get the ball you better be ready to go with it because if they get their defense set they’re tough to deal with.”
On what his team does well to set Santiago Vescovi up for success
“He helps himself a lot because he draws attention. Santi has a really good feel. I didn’t think he was as locked in offensively as much. I thought he was a little too casual to start. Defensively, he was locked in at the start. He always is, like I’ve told you many times. He impacts the game without scoring. On offense, he’s a player that really sees it and he is always out there adjusting to however teams are playing him, but his movement without the ball too. When he gets moving and gets his feet set he’s a guy that’s difficult to deal with.”
On why Jahmai Mashack and Tobe Awaka didn’t play in the second half
“I didn’t think Jahmai early was locked into the game offensively. He was just not doing that part of it where he was getting sped up. He doesn’t need to ever get sped up and that was really the situation because in a game like this we have to take care of the ball and Tobe, no reason other than we played small at times tonight. We knew we really wanted to try and keep pressure on the three-point line. We have a team with Josiah now and Julian that we can play small and we feel like we can guard the three, we can switch better and they run such good actions. They screen well, they clip you and do a good job coming off. That was the reason. We played more small ball tonight.”
On what’s keeping Jerry Stackhouse and Vanderbilt from getting over the hump and making the NCAA Tournament
“It takes time and you have to get fortunate too. You do and you think about it, if Scotty Pippen was still there they would probably be picked top three teams in the league. That hurts. We all know today that can happen but what he does a great job of is developing players. How many new players does he have this year? He lost some, obviously, through the portal which we always do but what impresses me about him is how his team continues to get better and it’ll happen. It could happen this year. Believe me, they had their way with us as much as any team we’ve played in a while. They ran, did what they wanted to do. I love the demeanor his team plays with. He’s terrific doing his part coming out of the timeouts. His teams execute better than our team and that’s on me because his teams execute exactly what he wants them to do and most of the time they get the shot he wants them to get. They came out tonight and had two shots, it’s a big play right there in front of the rim when the one shot was missed two-feet in front of the rim. That could have changed the whole game if the ball would have gone in. I go back, it took us three years here before I thought we were in position to be competitive. We went through some tough losses and I know this, the guy can coach basketball. He can. It’s neat watching his teams. I was talking to the TV people today and I said it’s amazing how his teams are taking on his personality where they’re not going to quit. They’re going to keep going and I just think it’s a matter of time. This team here that he’s got right now, they can put themselves in position to get to the NCAA Tournament this year because this league, I don’t care what anybody says, it’s as wide open as it’s been since I’ve been here. Some team can get on a roll and go and it can be a number of teams.”
On how he talks to his team about a Kentucky team that’s struggling
“Well, I know that a couple years ago we went up and had a good win up there and they came in here and just owned us. Just did what they wanted to do. Had a huge win against us where— I’ll say the same about John Calipari’s teams, they’re going to get better. They’re going to keep getting better. I didn’t see the game tonight. I don’t know what happened there and I know he’s dealt with some injuries too. Someone did tell me that Cason Wallace did get hurt tonight. Which I don’t know, somebody said that to me. The fact is, I have so much respect for John. I’ve known him for a lifetime in this business, he’ll have this team ready. I think our guys certainly know that.”