Tennessee G Jahmai Mashack. Photo by Tennessee Athletics.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Following its win over No. 1 Alabama, Tennessee came out flat in the Blue Grass State. Kentucky took a 20 point first half lead and withheld a number of Volunteer second half pushes to win 66-54.
Tennessee was undermanned again and its offense fell flat on its face while Kentucky found a way to get open looks and make challenging shots.
Here’s three quick takeaways on a blowout.
Lack Of Backcourt Highlights First Half Struggles.
Tennessee’s best players and best scorers are in its backcourt. None of them showed up offensively in a game the Vols desperately needed them as Josiah-Jordan James and Julian Phillips were sidelined.
Zakai Zeigler spent nine first half minutes on the bench after picking up two fouls in the game’s first six minutes. The sophomore point guard was already playing poorly — 0-of-3 shooting and two turnovers — but without him their ability to get open looks waned.
Santiago Vescovi couldn’t get many shots to fall in warmups and even less when the first half began. Vescovi’s first two triples rolled in-and-out and he never found his groove, scoring no first half points on zero-of-three shooting from the field. Kentucky five-star freshman Cason Wallace ate his lunch on both ends.
Tyreke Key bears less offensive responsibility than either of the starting backcourt but with Josiah-Jordan James and Julian Phillips sidelined, Tennessee needs his offense. The Indiana State transfer totaled just one points on zero-of-three shooting.
The backcourt’s offensive issues were highlighted by its three-point shooting struggles. Tennessee made one-of-13 first half three-point attempts.
Ironically, the one guard who provided a real offensive boost was Jahmai Mashack. The defensive stopper scored seven first half points to lead Tennessee in scoring.
More From RTI: Josiah-Jordan James, Julian Phillips Out For Tennessee Again
Vols Second Half Energy Too Little, Too Late
Tennessee turned Kentucky over one second into the second half. It was the first of three forced turnovers on the Wildcats’ opening three possessions of the first half.
The defensive energy sparked a 7-0 run to open the second half and led to a John Calipari timeout. Tennessee came out with a completely different energy to start the game’s second 20 minutes and it allowed them to make a slight run.
Kentucky was able to score points in part due to a gambling Tennessee defense but the Vols push didn’t relent as Santiago Vescovi scored 15 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. While energy was far from Tennessee’s only offensive issue in the first half it did seem to be one of them.
The Vols got Kentucky’s lead to 10 points less than seven minutes into the second half but never got it to less than eight. It was a good second half from Tennessee but the hole was far too big to climb out of.
Tennessee not quitting was a good sign, but a veteran team shouldn’t get any brownies for not quitting after a dreadful first half as road favorites.
Mashack A Real Bright
With Tennessee’s two starters sidelined, Jahmai Mashack is receiving larger opportunities and responsibilities. He shined against Alabama by doing what we know he can do, playing great defense.
Against Kentucky, Mashack showed a sign of his game we have yet to see in his young college career. The sophomore guard was more than just an offensive threat. He was a go-to offensive threat for Tennessee.
The California native scored a career-high 16 points on seven-of-12 shooting from the field in the loss. Mashack did what Rick Barnes said he can do on the offensive end, get to the basket and score off of two feet. He was a force around the rim and even hit a three-pointer.
The one offensive issue for Mashack was what’s been his biggest offensive issue all season— his inability to make free throws. He made only one-of-five attempts.
Mashack’s defensive task wasn’t nearly as difficult against Kentucky but he was strong on that end as usual. At 6-foot-4 he was also Tennessee’s best rebounder, snagging eight including two on the offensive end.
The athletic sophomore’s efforts largely kept Tennessee in the game and if Phillips’ and James’ absences are extended Tennessee will need some version of the offensive production he gave them.
Tennessee stays on the road, traveling to College Station to face Texas A&M Tuesday night. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. ET with ESPN broadcasting the game.