Photo by Andrew Ferguson/ Tennessee Athletics
Tennessee basketball jumped out to a 15-3 lead in the opening minutes of its matchup at South Carolina Saturday afternoon. That was the competitive part of the game.
The Vols bullied and belittled South Carolina, 85-40, at Colonial Life Arena to improve to 3-0 in SEC play for the first time since 2018-19.
Tennessee got elite front court scoring from Olivier Nkamhoua and Jonas Aidoo while Julian Phillips and Josiah-Jordan James had pleasant returns to the Palmetto State.
Here’s everything Vols’ coach Rick Barnes said after the blowout.
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On if he felt like they carried over the offensive success from Mississippi State
“I thought there were a lot of really good things. Really, as a staff, we’re really proud of Olivier. After the game (against Mississippi State), we’re breaking down film, the one guy that we went at pretty good was (Nkamhoua), the fact that he only had one rebound in 39 minutes over two games. He went to practice and, I’m telling you, we’ve had two hard practices since the Mississippi State game, and he really went at it. I’m so happy for him, that it showed up for him today. It just goes to show you that this game gives you what you put into it.
“But overall, defensively, we knew we wanted to come out and really try to make it difficult for South Carolina to score. We knew that they would probably go to a lot of dribble-drive, to see if our post guys, we normally play with two post players, see if we could guard them, probably hoping we would have to size down. But I thought early we did have some good gap help, to help those guys. But overall it was a great effort. A lot of good things, obviously. We keep talking about how we can get better. Really happy, again, that Josiah (Jordan James) is working his way back in. Shooting the ball the way he is. I thought Julian (Phillips) was good today. Overall, there were really a lot of good things.”
On what is going well for Olivier Nkamhoua and what it meant for him to play well at the site of his season ending injury
“I think what’s going, when he plays well, is really and truly when he gets locked into doing anything other than thinking about scoring. And I would not only say that about Olivier, but I would say that about anybody on the team. I know he wants to be a complete player. He knows. Our post guys know that we have a job. We do need them to score some buckets, we do. But they also know we need them to be really elite defenders, gotta get, I would tell you this, I know looking at the tape I’m going to come back and say we’re going to have to get better with our ball-screen coverage. We’re not clean on our switches the way we need to be. It’s mainly, honestly, it’s the three and the four positions where we’re not switching as clean as we need to switch. I think when he (Nkamhoua), like any guy, really focuses on anything other than scoring, his natural instincts will take over for him. And the fact that he’s catching the ball where we want him to catch it. I think knowing your space on the court where you’re most effective and getting to it, he’s certainly been doing that. He certainly did that today.”
On shutting down South Carolina forward GG Jackson
“This time of year, it’s all scouting reports. We have a group of guys that, one, I think the fact that we gave them great respect coming in, in terms of we knew that he leads them in scoring and rebounding and we knew we had to put a target on him. We’re going to have to work hard. But overall, a couple different guys guarded him. They took it on to know that they were guarding a good player and trying to do everything they could to make him have a tough night.”
On Josiah-Jordan James getting back in the rotation and taking his shots
“The one thing he has done, the fact that he has missed practice, he has shot a lot of shots. I think he’s very, very confident. He’s worked. From the time he’s gotten here, I don’t know that I’ve seen a guy transform himself from not being a great shooter to where, I mean, he’s on the verge of being a great shooter. But the one thing he’s never gotten away from, even when it’s just over shooting free throws, standing in front of the basket with a heavy ball, working on his shot, he’s never stopped working on his shot. The fact is, he’s got a terrific basketball IQ and great hands. Like I told the guys last night, I said you guys can learn from the mental part, being so important. Even though he’s down on the other end, I know he’s listening to what’s going on with our team and he’s able to come in and execute at a high level, knowing what we’re trying to do. He’s one of those guys that, when it leaves his hand, you really do think it has a terrific chance to go in.”
On Julian Phillips caring more while returning home and how he performed
“I just feel he’s getting closer-and-closer where he’s just going to keep getting better-and-better each game. I thought he was good today. He’s still learning a lot. I think this month is a big month as we get into conference play and just like any month we focus on certain players on the other team. People are going to do that with our team and he’ll recognize what he needs to do. I think the fact is if he’ll just keep working like he’s working, we’re happy with him. We know he can score the ball and we do try to play through him as much as we can when we can. I thought today he gave us a great effort.”
On if the team has had any complacency since the Colorado game
“That is a concern every day. It is. I tell them, you guys know I’m going to tell them exactly what I’m feeling. They’re going to know what I’m feeling. This team, they work. They deserve where we are right now but I think they are smart enough to know we have got to get better. There’s so many ways we can get better and I think they understand that. I think they understand we just now are starting to put our team together with everybody. I don’t know how many minutes Josiah played today, 18, that’s pretty much where we wanted to keep him and keep building that up. Obviously, we talked the other night about managing his minutes in practice as well. We’re starting to get him out there and I thought there were a lot of good things today with Jonas making some threes but we turned it over a couple times from the high-low situation. We want that but we can’t throw the ball out of bounds. Overall, these guys bring it. What you see, and you all have watched us practice, what you see from Santi and Zakai and Jahmai Mashack— what you see them do, they do every day. Those guys have been around long enough to know — Josiah when he is out there — that we have to get better and how important practices are.”
On how much of the offensive success starts on the defensive end
“A lot. I do. I really think if we can get out in transition. Like everybody, you want to try and get some easy baskets. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. I just know when you think about our defense creating offense whether we’re talking about rebounding, whatever it may be. We tell our guys, the name of the game is rebounding. The ball goes up, that should be our best offense. We can get so much better there. Take our shots when they come but on the defensive end there’s not a lot of negotiation there. We’ve got to do what we know we’re capable of doing. We believe in our offense enough that we’ll get shots if they execute it and not try to force much and we think we have guys that can score the ball if they take the shots we practice for years on years.”