Everything Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee Dominated Austin Peay

Tennessee Maryland

Tennessee MarylandPhoto by Andrew Ferguson/ Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee capped off its pre conference play with a dominant, 86-44, victory over Austin Peay at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday night.

The Vols jumped out to a 20-2 lead and never looked back cruising to the victory over the instate foe.

In Tennessee’s last game before SEC play, Santiago Vescovi broke out of his shooting slump with a perfect performance beyond three-point range while the Vols’ front court had a second straight strong offensive performance.

Here’s everything Rick Barnes said following the blowout victory over the Governors.

More From RTI: Three-Quick Takeaways On Tennessee’s Win Over Austin Peay

On being locked in before Christmas break

“Obviously last night we made them very much aware of (other teams losing games this week), this time of year, if you’re not focused. We tell them constantly that everybody can play. We had the utmost respect for Austin Peay. We showed them, they’re a good basketball team. They were missing three guys tonight, but the fact is, we talked about the approach we’ve had all year and can we get better. Can we find a way to get better? We put our numbers up where we haven’t been as effective shooting the ball inside. Talked about different guys’ statistical numbers. But the one thing we did say to the team is that we weren’t concerned about Santi (Vescovi) shooting it. Wouldn’t take but for a game for him to get back with it. But really, as a staff, we’re excited about Jonas (Aidoo) and what he did tonight. One (rebound) away from having a double-double. Tobe (Awaka), the way he gets it done rebounding, he’s a rebounder. The way he goes and gets it is a great thing.

“We worked hard. I thought our guys worked hard inside. Really good interior passing. Defensively, Nate James does a terrific job playing to his personnel. And we knew their post player, he’s been effective everywhere that he went. We wanted to try to push him out, so they couldn’t enter it as easy there. Our post guys, we knew they were going to have their hands full. But overall, just the maturity of our team this time of year, this is a tough game, based on what you had mentioned, earlier this week how teams were losing games that you would think they shouldn’t lose. From that point, we’re really proud of the maturity that our guys showed.”

On Tobe Awaka and Jonas Aidoo benefitting from a game like this

“Huge because their effort was really good. I think it’s good for Uros (Plavsic) and Olivier (Nkamhoua), too, knowing they better be consistent, get done what they need to get done. Because those guys, Jonas wasn’t particularly effective at Arizona, but his preparation maybe the last day and today in shoot around was the best it has been. He was locked in and he did some really good things. Tobe, we’re just going to continue to watch him grow up. Actually he was better tonight than he was in practice yesterday and shoot around today. He’s learning how to play through fatigue a little bit. But overall it was a great effort overall by both of those guys.”

On Santiago Vescovi bouncing back from his shooting slump with a big game

“Yesterday in practice we were doing a lot, telling him. Because you could tell — he’s a good driver. You watch him on tape, the way people guard him, he doesn’t get a whole lot of looks he gets used to having, because people are trying to down him, not let him come off the screens or chase him hard. But yesterday we were doing some different things to try to get him some separation. We said hey, you gotta shoot it, you gotta shoot it. You know what, didn’t shoot it great in practice, but today at shoot around, every time I looked he was making shots. Just, again, him, that part of it, he affects the game in so many different ways. Him, Zakai (Zeigler), Shack (Jahmai Mashack), they do a lot. I think Tyreke (Key) is getting there, too, where even nights when they don’t shoot it (well), they play a huge impact on the game. We’ve got to get our post guys doing that. We need them to impact the game in ways when they’re not making shots. But we did probably the best job we’ve done all year. We went through one flurry there where we missed three or four shots in a row. I think we were shooting right at 67 percent from the two in the first half. We’ve got to get up there with that number. That’s important to us.”

On what he liked about the ball movement on offense

“I thought the tempo was good. I thought we were efficient. I thought we were locked in to each other. I do think our guards are getting better at getting the ball to our post players. And our post players, I think, are doing a better job too of going to meet the ball, as opposed to just waiting for it to get there. They doubled early, they were coming from the backside. I thought Olivier made some really nice passes and Uros, where we got the dives there, Jonas came down and caught two of them. Really good movement there. It’s tight quarters in there. You guys watch us practice. We work everyday on those guys playing tight spaces. I thought our movement was good. I thought our movement overall was pretty good.”

On freshman Julian Phillips’ performance

“You know, I think he struggled like a freshman. But we’ve got great belief in him. One of the reasons we left him out there, he picked up those two fouls early and he has to stay away from that. He’s got to stay away from it. Obviously we put him back in and I didn’t think he was ready mentally. I think he probably thought when we took him out with two fouls he wouldn’t play in the first half. Then he went in and he just wasn’t locked in the way he needs to be defensively. Because if he’ll lock in, he’s getting better defensively. And have a mindset that he’s going to impact the game the way those guys do when they’re not making shots is only going to make him better. The offense is going to come. He’s like Santi. We know he’s a really good offensive player and we know it’s a matter of time. He struggled, but again, he’s somebody we have great belief in. He’ll keep getting better.”

On if he thought Tobe Awaka could rebound like this as a freshman

“It’s definitely in his DNA. I mean, he led the EYBL in rebounding. That’s what he did. You talk to people that have been around the game for a long, long time and they’ll tell you that there’s one statistic that translates from junior high to high school to college to the NBA and that’s rebounding. If you rebound the ball, you rebound the ball. He does it. He’s going to get so much better. It’s exciting to watch him. Once he learns to get off the ground as quick as he does rebounding the ball with his offensive game, it’s going to be neat to watch him grow there because he’s never been asked to do a lot offensively. Obviously with his size he was able to bully people. He’s strong, he really is strong. But his rebounding, he’s got a great knack. I’ve coached a few guys that are just great at it. You wish you could just give it to everybody, but it’s his want to. It’s in his DNA. As time goes on, people are going to say you have to keep him off the glass. I’m telling you, he’s a guy that will keep fighting to get better. He will.”

On if he feels like the frontcourt is starting to turn a corner offensively

“I want to say so, but again, I still think that’s a question mark if we can still be consistent. Can we get consistent to where they can? They’re working at it. They really are. They’re working hard at it, but I guess I’d like to say I hope so, but I guess it remains to be seen.”

On Austin Peay not making its first shot until the 11:12 mark of the first half

“Well one, they run really good stuff. They’re somewhat deliberate in their style because they’re so well-coached and they know exactly what they’re looking for. You talk about an inside presence, they have that identity. They have a post player (Elijah Hutchins-Everett) that they love to play through and you watch their schemes, they do a lot of misdirection to get him a chance to do something with it. They’re not afraid to get you deep into the shot clock. We had them out probably further than they wanted to be and when you can push out like that — I thought they adjusted well and started driving the ball which is a great adjustment for them. We felt like we were getting a little bit too spread out, but on the other hand, we felt like we were preventing them from getting it in the post so easy because they’re good at it, they really are. When he gets it in there, he knows what to do with it. They run good offense, but we were locked in as a team and I thought our help defense, our fix-it plays were pretty good.”

On how much the players take pride in consistently strong defensive performances

“Well we set our goals. We have goals every game that we would like to get to and we just want to make every possession count. One of the keys that has been in that is that we’ve been able to defend without fouling people. At Arizona, we fouled. Now, they got fouled, too. But anyway, we fouled. They got to the line 27 times and they didn’t shoot many free throws tonight. At the end they started getting there a little bit, but our guys have done a good job of keeping their hands back and playing with their feet and their chest. They’ve done a good job of getting in the gaps early. Our guys have taken pride in defensive rebounding. We always have, but they’ve been together. They’ve been really locked into our scouting report. I think our coaching staff does a great job of preparing them that way and I’ll tell you this. Our scout team is terrific. We don’t coach our guys to run the other team’s offense. We teach them how they’re going to defend it. Today in shoot around, I thought our guys were really locked in. We obviously went through yesterday, but the focus is you have to give the credit to our players for being focused with it.”

On how he would assess where the team is going into conference play

“I thought tonight overall might have been our most complete — because we were good offensively and we’ve played teams that defend just like Austin Peay guarded us where we had those opportunities and haven’t necessarily shot the ball both inside and out well. Defensively, we talk about it. If we can just find a way to really just lock in and guard, we’ll find a way to manufacture some points. I’ve said it before, when you’re making shots, there’s a lot of teams that can win any night when you’re making shots. We shot the ball well. We ended up (56% from the floor) and that will win you a lot of games. (We shot 44% from three) and that’s a pretty good night. Didn’t do a great job on the free throw line, but otherwise, those are pretty good numbers. Did a pretty good job obviously on the glass. 17 rebounds. I haven’t looked at the adjusted stuff that we use in terms of what percentage we were getting the offensive rebounds, but it’s just a good effort in terms of overall taking care of the ball. We got careless a few times, but overall, again, this time of year is a tough time to play knowing guys will be leaving here and it’ll be a quick turnaround for everybody trying to get home and get back. Some guys won’t go, but just really proud of the concentration and the fact that they gave Austin Peay the utmost respect by the way they prepared for this game.”

Author: Ethan Moore