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Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes was discussing the Vols’ interior scoring following their, 94-40, win over Alcorn State when a beside the topic thought popped into his head.
“Tyreke is still turning down too many shots that he needs to take for us from the perimeter,” Barnes said.
Indiana State transfer Tyreke Key hit a triple on Tennessee’s first possession against the Braves, hit another six minutes into the blowout win and attempted four in the game’s first 10 minutes. Still, Barnes wants to see a more aggressive and assertive Key on the offensive end of the floor.
“It’s really important for him.”
The eighth year coach referenced that Key entered the Alcorn State game having attempted 31 less three-pointers than Santiago Vescovi. Vescovi — a senior shooting guard who missed the Alcorn State game with a left shoulder sprain — and Key are the two best shooters on Tennessee’s roster. Even after attempting seven triples against the Braves, Key’s still taken 24 less triples than Vescovi just eight games into the season.
While Vescovi’s perimeter shooting is off to a slow start this season (31.7%), Key is not. The Celina, Tennessee native is second on the team with a 38.5 three-point percentage and the Vols brought him in for his final collegiate season to score.
In an offense that can go through offensive dry spells, Key playing with confidence and having a quick trigger would only help.
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Of course, Vescovi attempting 24 more three-pointers isn’t as simple as Key just turning down good shots. There’s room for the sixth-year senior to grow in the areas that get guards open three-pointers including the off ball movement that makes Vescovi so challenging to defend.
“He’s got to understand when we design something and get the shot we want we have to shoot it,” Barnes said. “He’s got to understand it. He’s learning the offense. I think he has to continue to get better at screening. He’s got to do what Santi does a lot— screen to get himself open. Again, we want him to be aggressive. We want him when he’s open, we expect him to turn it loose.”
While Tennessee is looking for more out of Key, the transfer has been far from a disappointment. Key is one of five Vols averaging over 10 points per game and despite playing strictly off the ball at Indiana State, has been a reliable ball handler in the early season.
One of the question marks around Key entering the season was whether he was athletic enough to excel in the SEC. Key isn’t Tennessee’s best defender but is a net positive according to EvanMiya.com and hasn’t been a problem on that end of the court.
“I think it’s surprising of some of the new guys catching on so fast,” assistant coach Rod Clark said of Tennessee’s defensive success. “Tyreke Key has done an unbelievable job.”
Tennessee returns to the court Wednesday night against Eastern Kentucky before leaving Knoxville for back-to-back top 15 matchups against Maryland (Brooklyn) and at Arizona. The seventh-ranked Vols will be all the more dangerous if they have an aggressive Key in the challenging two game stretch.