Photo via Tennessee Athletics
Uros Plavsic checked into the game just over five minutes in and quickly drew a hard foul. He came up jawing at Texas’ Brock Cunningham. The Longhorns returned the talk when Plavsic airballed the first free throw. After Plavsic missed the second free throw he came down with the rebound and threw it off Cunningham’s leg out of bounds.
More jawing ensued.
Physical, intense and no shortage of trash talk. That was the type of game Tennessee and Texas gave one another from the jump as the fourth-ranked Vols outlasted No. 10 Texas, 82-71, for its second top 10 win of the season Saturday night.
Here’s three quick takeaways on an impressive victory.
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Senior Forwards Too Much For Texas To Handle
Tennessee’s offense has been extremely balanced this season, not only rarely relying on one player game-to-game to carry the load but also in the midst of each game.
That wasn’t the case for Tennessee in the first half as senior forward Josiah-Jordan James and Olivier Nkamhoua combined for 21 of Tennessee’s first 30 points and 23 of its 40 points in the half.
Texas’ frontcourt is the weakness of its team and Tennessee went right at them in the first half. The inconsistent Nkamhoua was impressive with his consistent energy and intensity. The power forward was effective on the glass and impressive finishing through contact at the rim.
The small forward James finished at the rim for Tennessee’s first basket of the night and then settled into his perimeter game where he effectively controlled the midrange and hit shots from the perimeter. James offensive prowess was in addition to his usual strong play elsewhere on the court.
Nkamhoua was Tennessee’s best offensive option in the game, recording a career high 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the field. James cooled off after his red hot start but was still an offensive factor throughout the afternoon, going through 14 points.
Plenty of Vols played well against the Longhorns but James and Nkamhoua’s performance against a vulnerable Texas frontcourt was was extremely important.
Tennessee Dominate The Glass Rebounding
Tennessee’s rebounding has been inconsistent this season, at times helping drive success for an inconsistent offense but also costing the Vols in their loss against Kentucky and a handful of other wins this season.
Right from the jump, Tennessee was fantastic on the glass against the Longhorns. The Vols had four offensive rebounds before Texas recorded four total rebounds. That theme continued throughout the afternoon as Tennessee earned a, 38-23, rebounding advantage.
Tennessee’s offensive rebounding, which ranked first nationally earlier in the season, was strong against the flawed Texas frontline. The Vols grabbed 11 offensive boards on the night compared to Texas’ eight
The rebounding success was balanced amongst Tennessee players but the two seniors previously discussed helped lead the way. James grabbed seven rebounds and Nkamhoua grabbed eight rebounds to go along with Santiago Vescovi’s eight rebounds.
Zakai Zeigler Is The Most Underrated Player In The Country
If you’re a consistent reader of my basketball coverage, first thank you, second I’m sorry for how frequently I write about Zakai Zeigler in this three quick takeaways post.
But Zeigler keeps playing extremely well and keeps flying under the radar in national and regional basketball conversations.
The sophomore point guard took just one shot — a forced one as the shot clock expired — in the first 17 minutes of the game. Zeigler felt out the game while getting others involved, dishing out six assists in the stretch.
At that point, Tennessee led by seven points and was playing well but not great and wasn’t in complete control of the game.
Then, Zeigler took over. The sophomore point guard scored eight consecutive points while also making life miserable for Texas’ guards. Zeigler pushed Tennessee’s lead to 15 points and the Vols never looked back.
The undersized guard was phenomenal against the Longhorns, scoring 22 points on seven-of-10 shooting from the field (three-of-six from the perimeter) while also dishing out 10 assists on his way to his third double-double of the season.
As has so often been the case in the last month, Zeigler put on a point guard masterclass against Texas and was in complete control on the court.
Tennessee heads on the road to resume conference play Wednesday night at Florida. Tip-off from Gainesville is at 7 p.m. ET with ESPN2 broadcasting the game.