The Tennessee men’s basketball team started SEC play with a big 73-63 win over Texas A&M on the road Thursday night. Lamonte Turner led the Vols with 14 points and 4 assists. Detrick Mostella chipped in 13 points off the bench. Grant Williams, a freshman, tied a Tennessee record with 6 blocked shots on the evening as he continues to impress. The victory improves the Vols to 8-5 (1-0 SEC) on the season. The win counts as a large upset for Rick Barnes’ team. The media picked Tennessee to finish 13th out of 14 SEC teams in its preseason poll. The Aggies finished 3rd in the same poll.
The teams were tied 29-29 at the halftime break before Tennessee went on a 20-5 run in the middle of the second half. The Vols led by as many as 20 in the final ten minutes before the lead slipped back to 10 as the final margin. Defensive intensity keyed the win for the Volunteers. They forced 16 A&M turnovers and held the Aggies to just 34% shooting from the field. Williams continues to anchor a strong defensive unit despite being undersized for the SEC. He has been impressive throughout his freshmen season and looks to be growing into a building block for Coach Barnes.
Keys Moving Forward
A tournament run for the Vols would still be surprising over the rest of the campaign. However, counting out a Rick Barnes coached teams is never wise. Whatever Big Orange fans think about the dark times of LAB (Life After Bruce), the administration got it right with the Barnes hire. The team consistently looks more prepared than the opposition despite being less talented many nights. Barnes gets max effort from his guys and plays an exciting brand of basketball. A fan cannot ask for much more than an easy team to cheer for until Barnes has more time to recruit big time talent to Tennessee. Remember, this is the man that signed Kevin Durant to Texas. He is no stranger to big stars.
The Vols must continue to receive strong point guard play from Turner going forward to compete in the SEC. He is capable of breaking down defenses and making life easier for teammates. The emergence of Mostella from the wilderness would also drastically help the Vols. Mostella can bring scoring off the bench to a unit that desperately needs it.
Tennessee returns to the court at home on Tuesday January 3rd against the Arkansas Razorbacks. The game starts at 6:30 p.m ET and can be watched on the SEC Network.