Tennessee HC Rick Barnes and F Olivier Nkamhoua. Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics
Tennessee basketball is on to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament after knocking off Louisiana 58-55 late Thursday night in Orlando.
The Vols built an 18-point second half lead before Louisiana made a furious comeback and pulled within three points in the game’s final minutes.
Barnes discussed Louisiana’s late game run, the play of Jahmai Mashack and much more.
Here’s everything the Vols’ head coach had to say after the win.
More From RTI: Three Quick Takeaways As Tennessee Basketballs Holds Off A Louisiana Run
Barnes opening statement
“Well, really pretty much what we expected. I’ve known Bob Marlin for a long time. He’s got a team that he’s done a great job putting together. Really terrific offense, very disciplined. They know exactly what they’re looking for, what they want to get each time down the floor. Defensively his teams have always done a really good job of pressuring. Certainly tonight they were playing personnel, which we’ve seen that pretty much all year, but it was the kind of game we expected. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game. And kind of how we’ve done it many different times this year, we relied on our defense to get it done for us and found a way to score enough points the first half. Turned it over way too many uncharacteristic ways, but really good win, proud of our players. But again, I could just rave about Bob and his team because those guys played their hearts out.”
On what went wrong when Louisiana made a late game run
“Well, again, they had the ability — they don’t shoot a lot of threes, but we did have some breakdowns defensively. We were going under a couple times too much on some screens. But then through that time, too, we weren’t very good offensively where we missed some shots and missed a couple free throws. But again, they’re a good offensive team. We tried to keep them in check as long as we could, but they made the shots. A couple of them were what we would consider — what we wouldn’t want someone to do against us. We gave them too much space. Even though we got a hand up, it was too late. But again, give them credit. They made the shots, and they knew what they were looking for. At the end of the game, we made enough plays to get it done.”
On Jahmai Mashack’s contribution
“Well, again, I can’t say enough about these two guys here. Santi in the first half got in foul trouble. We turned it over 12 times in some really ridiculous ways, to be quite honest with you. But we stayed in it with our defense. And Jahmai has been a big part certainly since even before Zakai went out. He found his niche and he’s a guy that we know that can guard people. He’s not afraid to go out and guard anybody. What he did all night long guarding their point guard — as we watched tape coming in, most people had backed off him all year long, allowing him to shoot the ball or just trying to keep him out of the lane. We felt it was really important to get into the ball to get them playing further away from the basket where they couldn’t post it as easy. And it started with Jahmai and he had to work all night long. Again, on offense I think he’s getting more and more comfortable every time he goes out there. But again, playing through the first half without Santi is probably something we didn’t expect. But we found a way, that’s all I can say, at the end of the game with them making shots and us not being as sharp as we wanted to be. But again, just proud of the effort that these guys gave.”
On what has to happen to clean up turnovers
“Well, we can’t trip over our own feet. We can’t throw the ball to the guys that aren’t looking. It goes back to simple execution. Just instead of trying to get cute on some sets, just call whatever we call, just execute it. It’s really simple. We ended up with 18 turnovers, but 12 were in the first half. But again, give them credit. They came down — and we had the chance to get in some gaps. They came down and took the ball away from us. You’ve got to give them credit for some of those turnovers. But from our point of view, we’ve got to be cleaner with the ball, there’s no question.”
On his initial thoughts on Duke
“Well, listen — and I really haven’t seen them a lot this year. I haven’t. But I know that they’re probably as hot as any basketball team in the country. I did, while we were at dinner the other night, Jim Boeheim was on with Tony Kornheiser, and they were talking about that he thought Duke was the team that was going to win the National Championship. So that tells you a lot about them, that he would say that at this point in time. But again, what, they’ve won, 18, 19 out of 20, something like that. But I haven’t seen them a lot. But I know Jon Scheyer has done a great job. I know they had some injuries early in the year and coming down the stretch and when you win your conference tournament. And they beat a good team today. What little bit I did see, I thought their defense was outstanding against a team that can really shoot the ball. And like I said, they’re a team that probably is as hot as any team in the country right now.”
On getting turnovers down in the second half and withstanding Louisiana runs
“Well, in regards to the turnovers, obviously just telling our guys at halftime some of the ones we made were just — the word I used is ridiculous. We can’t turn the ball over the way we did there, and our guys know that. But we’ve been in those kind of games all year long. You go back to our conference, we’ve been in — it’s been a battle all year in the SEC, so we’ve been in those situations. We just really believe if we can guard to the best of our ability and rebound the ball, we’ll find a way to — it’s not always pretty — to get it done on the offensive end for us. But we’ll find a way. We’ll just stay in the game defensively and rebound it.
We didn’t do a great job tonight getting to the offensive boards, but I think you’ve got to give them credit for that, too, because we’ve been a better rebounding team there. And one reason we were sending two back, we normally send four back. But the last couple games without Zakai, we didn’t have very good floor balance because these guys are used to going to the glass, all of them, with the exception of Zakai. So tonight to make sure we didn’t give any run outs, we said we’re going to send two back just to make sure we had that covered. But I think the fact that we’ve been in so many of these close games all year long, these guys are used to it and they knew they had to make some plays, and they did.”
On trying to keep Santiago Vescovi from getting in foul trouble
“Yeah, we tell him we don’t want to foul in general, but we don’t want to lose our aggressiveness, either. We know we’re at our best when we’re physical, both outside and inside with our defense, and we want to make plays. We want to get deflections. We want to get turnovers. We want to try to rake the ball loose as much as we can. Yeah, we tell them that we need them in the game, obviously. But Santi is like most guys, he doesn’t think he ever fouls, which most guys are like that. And sometimes he doesn’t, to be quite honest. But the fact is I don’t think anybody in college basketball gets fouled more than him. Some of that, I think that when he does have some of those fouls, it’s out of frustration because of the way he’s been guarded the entire year. Everybody goes in the game doing everything they cannot to let him catch the ball, running him off screens, and he’s dealing with that all night long. So some of those fouls I’m sure stems from a little frustration because, like I said, I think he’s fouled more than any player in the country.”
On using different defenses
“Right now our plan is we’re going to play zone for 40 minutes. You can tell them that. But we’ve got two other zones we run, too. We like a 1-3-1 and a 1-2-2. We work on it, not a lot, because we believe heavily in our man defense because we feel like we can rebound out of it. I do think tonight we did a good job — they actually had two pretty good looks at it, but we were able to rebound the ball. I do think it got them out of their rhythm a little bit. But we do have some other things that we can do, but I do think overall that the zone did help us, I do, especially in the first half. We really put it there thinking the idea if we didn’t get separation, we could maybe put Santi back in the game in that situation and let him stay out there. But the way we handled the first half, we were able to keep him on the bench the entire time.”