Vols’ Veterans Deliver In Postseason Opening Victory Over Ole Miss

Vols' Veterans Deliver In Postseason Opening Victory Over Ole Miss

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior Josiah-Jordan James put it bluntly.

“This team goes how the veterans go,” James said.

The veterans led Tennessee past Ole Miss 70-55 in its opening game at the SEC Tournament Thursday afternoon.

Tennessee’s veterans are all seniors. With zero scholarship juniors on the roster and experienced sophomore Zakai Zeigler sidelined the rest of the season with a knee injury, the Vols experience comes solely from its five seniors.

It starts with the two seniors that have played an abundance of minutes since their first days on campus: Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James.

Vescovi was fantastic again while shouldering a larger ball handling role, tallying 15 points, six rebounds and three assists. The senior sharpshooter has heated up over the last month, averaging 14.8 points on 38% shooting from three-point range in the last eight games.

“Santi is special, man,” Olivier Nkamhoua said postgame. “He’s a hard worker and he knows how to play the game. He has coaches trust and he has the utmost confidence in himself and we have the utmost confidence in him.”

Vescovi is Tennessee’s rock and most consistent player. Getting consistency from the other seniors is the challenge they’re facing.

Few can swing Tennessee’s ceiling the way Josiah-Jordan James does when he’s hitting shots. James turned in his best game of an injury filled season Thursday, totaling game-highs in points (20) and rebounds (seven).

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If James doesn’t swing Tennessee’s potential more than anyone else it’s Nkamhoua. The senior power forward is extremely inconsistent but earned an efficient nine points against the Rebels and anchored Tennessee’s zone defense that flipped the game’s momentum in the final minutes of the first half.

“I think it just gave them a new look,” Nkamhoua said. “We had been playing a lot of man-to-man and we’re known for playing man-to-man. Most people scout us for our man-to-man defense so the zone probably threw them off the game plan and they just had to react in that moment. … It was a nice surprise to throw in there.”

Tyreke Key and Uros Plavsic were quiet on the stat sheet but had their own contributions. Plavsic was particularly effective defensively in the second half.

“I thought the second half, Uros (Plavsic) and Jahmai (Mashack) were the ones that brought the aggression,” coach Rick Barnes said. “I thought when we started changing a little bit with our ball screen, I thought Uros did a really good job. Started doubling a little bit, more hard help, doing things like that.”

In total, Tennessee’s seniors combined for 70% of the Vols’ points, 50% of their rebounds and 47% of their assists. Vescovi and James led the Vols the way they need to down the stretch and Nkamhoua and Plavsic each added meaningful contributions.

“Our seniors, this time of year, it should be their time of year,” Barnes said.

If Tennessee basketball goes as its seniors goes this postseason, its first game was a good start.

Author: Ethan Moore