Photo via Tennessee Athletics
After a frustrating first two weeks of February, Tennessee broke out of its slump with a gritty 68-59 victory over No. 1 Alabama Wednesday night.
Santiago Vescovi and Jonas Aidoo were fantastic for Tennessee in the second half as the Vols earned their best win of the season with two starters.
Here’s three quick takeaways on a critical victory.
Vols Fail To Capitalize On Strong First Half
Tennessee played extremely well in the first half. The Vols ran Alabama off the three-point line and their ball pressure gave Alabama’s guards all sorts of problems.
Alabama turned it over 12 times in the first half leading to 17 Volunteer points. In comparison, Alabama turned four Tennessee turnovers into zero points.
The Vols also had success on the offensive glass, grabbing nine in the game’s first 10 minutes. In total, Tennessee took 16 more shots than Alabama did in the first half, yet the Vols and Crimson Tide were even at 29 at halftime.
As Rick Barnes said in his halftime interview, “we just have to make shots.”
The eighth-year head coach’s assessment was dead on. Tennessee’s big men missed good looks around the rim as the Vols shot six-of-12 at the rim in the first half and the Vols scoring guards struggled to make jumper as Santiago Vescovi and Tyreke Key combined for seven points on two-of-13 shooting from the field.
Zakai Zeigler was the lone Vol that found offensive consistency, making three-of-six first half triples.
The first half score with the first half play from Tennessee did not bode well, but the Vols had other ideas in the second half.
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An Elite Defensive Outing
Alabama brought the SEC’s and one of the nation’s best offenses into Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday night. After a disappointing week — partly due to its three-point luck running low — Tennessee’s defense responded in a big way against the Crimson Tide.
We touched on the ball pressure and ability to force turnovers in the first half and it continued in a lesser rate in the second half. Alabama coughed the ball up 19 times for the game leading to 26 Tennessee points.
The Vols also played strong defense at the rim where they forced Alabama to six-of-21 shooting. In perhaps the best game of his career, Jonas Aidoo protected the rim extremely well and blocked three shots.
Tennessee’s defense was stout contesting shots outside of a few defensive breakdowns that led to open Alabama three-pointers.
For the game, Alabama shot 35% from the floor, 38% from deep and scored just .908 points per possession.
Jonas Aidoo Delivers In The Biggest Moments
Alabama had just cut Tennessee’s lead to four out of the under four timeout when Zakai Zeigler drove right and threw up a prayer with the shot clock dwindling it. The shot wouldn’t draw iron but Jonas Aidoo was there to clean it up and score.
The Crimson Tide got down the court quick with its impressive secondary break but Aidoo rejected a shot at the rim and then deflected the ball away from two Alabama players to a teammate who secured the defensive rebound.
Tennessee likely doesn’t win without that sequence and they certainly don’t win without Aidoo playing the best game of his career.
The sophomore big man was phenomenal on both ends of the floor, scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds for his first career double-double.
Offensively, Aidoo wasn’t perfect but found some rhythm finishing around the rim and hit the midrange jumpers he’s capable of but has largely struggled with this season.
Defensively, Aidoo played up to his extremely high ceiling that he hasn’t shown with enough consistency this season. Consistency is the key with all of Tennessee’s big men but Aidoo showed just how high his ceiling is.
Tennessee heads to Rupp Arena Saturday to face Kentucky. Tip-off is at 1 p.m. ET with CBS broadcasting the game.