Photo via Tennessee Athletics
Tennessee made easy work of McNeese State Wednesday night, using dominant defense to defeat the Cowboys, 76-40, at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols offense started slow but Tennessee’s defense turned in one of the program’s top performances ever thanks in large part to Jonas Aidoo’s continued development.
Here’s three quick takeaways on Tennessee’s fifth straight win.
Jonas Aidoo’s Defense Leads To Dominant Performance
Tennessee’s defense was one of the five best in the country last season without a consistent elite rim protector. It has a great chance to finish as the best in the nation this season thanks in large part to Jonas Aidoo’s emergence as an elite rim protector.
“Just my length,” Aidoo said of his effectiveness around the rim. “Just being tall and learning how to see where people release the ball and just trying to get the ball before the backboard.”
Aidoo took a step forward last week in The Bahamas playing the best basketball of his young college career. It continued against McNeese State as Aidoo protected the rim at an elite level.
The 6-foot-11 sophomore blocked four Cowboys’ shots in the first half while adding six rebounds. It was a dominant first half performance and McNeese State — who totaled just 14 first half points — scored at an even smaller clip when Aidoo was in the game.
Aidoo finished the night with five blocks and affected many more shots around the rim.
“It is tough,” Julian Phillips said of finishing over Aidoo. “It is as tough as you would think. He does a good job holding it down in the paint, altering shots and making it tough on guys. It is about as tough as you would think.”
With Aidoo anchoring the defense, Tennessee held the Cowboys to just four points more than the Vols’ program’s previous best defensive performance
McNeese State made just 29% of its shots from the field while Tennessee’s ball pressure gave them fits and forced 24 turnovers.
More From RTI: Tennessee Moves Up Nine Spots In Most Recent AP Poll
A Well Rounded Julian Phillips Performance
Julian Phillips doesn’t play like how you’d expect a five-star recruit to play. That’s not to mean Phillips doesn’t have the talent or isn’t as good as a five-star. The talent is clearly there and the early season production has been in the same realm of what you’d expect from a five star.
Phillips just plays selfless with an emphasis on doing the little things five-stars don’t always hone in on.
That was on display against McNeese State when Phillips dropped an extremely balanced stat line of 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Phillips made three-of-nine shots from the field but continued to impress with his ability to get to the free throw line. The South Carolina native got there eight times against McNeese State and is averaging 7.6 attempts in Tennessee’s last five games.
“We told him while were down in The Bahamas, we felt like he was driving to get fouled opposed to driving to score,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “He made a real conscience effort, I thought, in the Southern Cal game. … I thought he was doing that tonight. I thought he missed a few shots tonight, again, maybe fatigue a little bit. I’m not surprised with what he does because he brings it everyday.”
“I think if you drive trying to (get fouled), you are trying to embrace the contact first and initiate the contact,” Phillips said. “Driving to score is trying to figure out a way to get to the rim.”
The 6-foot-8 wing is getting better as he gets more college experience. After failing to reach double digits in his first two college games, Phillips has reached double figures in four of the last five games.
Tennessee Starts Making Shots In Second Half
Shooting struggles have been a consistent them of Tennessee’s young season and they continued in the first half when they made just 35% of its shots from the field and 25% from the three-point line.
The Vols started to find their offensive groove in the second half, scoring 46 points after tallying only 30 in the first half.
Rick Barnes talked on Tuesday about how simple offensive basketball is when you’re making shots. That’s what Tennessee did in the second half. The Vols shot eight-of-17 (47% ) from three-point range as they opened up a massive lead.
“There’s some nights when you can’t make shots,” Barnes said. “That’s just the way it is. Some teams I’ve had just can’t make shots and they struggle. But you can always impact the game. You always can by doing your job, the details, creating something.”
Tyreke Key and Santiago Vescovi each hit two second half threes while Phillips and B.J. Edwards made their lone attempts.
Tennessee returns to the court Sunday. night when they host Alcorn State to Thompson-Boling Arena. Tip-off is at 6 p.m. ET.