Rick Barnes thinks his Tennessee team is a good offensive team, even though the 22nd-ranked Volunteers haven’t shown that consistently in the first few weeks of the season yet.
Luckily the defense is in good shape.
Santiago Vescovi scored his 13 points after halftime and sparked the decisive run that helped Tennessee beat Butler 71-45 Wednesday night in the first round of Battle 4 Atlantis.
Vescovi hit three 3-pointers on a 17-1 run that opened the game for the Volunteers (3-1), who shot 53% after halftime. Tennessee led 28-23 at the break, then responded when Butler walked into a basket with the big run that pushed the Vols to an 18-point lead midway through the second half.
“I think we were pretty in line with our (defensive) scouting report,” Barnes said.
There were two key stretches where Tennessee began to assert control. The first came late in the first half, with the Volunteers holding the Bulldogs (3-2) without a basket for the final 5:05 before the break as they took a 28-23 lead.
Even costlier were the seven second-half minutes Tennessee locked up the Bulldogs in the second half, this one in the 17-1 run.
“For the most part it’s just their denial,” Butler goaltender Eric Hunter Jr. said. was that, it kind of took us out of our thing.
Julian Phillips added 11 points for Tennessee, which was without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (13.7) with left knee pain. He had an off-season procedure on that same joint.
Jayden Taylor scored 18 points with four 3s to lead the Bulldogs (3-2), who shot just 31.9%. No other player has hit double figures on a shorthanded roster through early injuries and had early foul issues, like big man Manny Bates playing just 4:38 of the first half with two fouls .
“We weren’t able to bounce back the way we wanted in terms of second-half execution,” coach Thad Matta said. “And then we linked our attack to our defence, and we haven’t been as effective defensively as we need to be.
Butler: The Bulldogs are playing the first season of Matta’s second stint as coach, the other coming in 2000-01. They had shot 53.1% in the first four games but struggled much more this time around, especially from behind the arc. After coming in shooting 36.6% on 3s, the Bulldogs went just 5 of 23 in this one – including 1 of 10 after halftime.
“It snowballed over us,” Matta said.
Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the season at No. 11 in the AP Top 25 before a stumble against Colorado in Nashville on Nov. 13. They responded by beating Florida Gulf Coast by 31 points and retired for another lopsided win despite missing a key player.
THE KEY POWER
Leading just 36-34, Phillips started the run with a driving field goal, then Vescovi followed with a 3 from the left wing on an inbound pass.
This launched Vescovi. He followed with another 3 from the right corner on a kick from Zakai Zeigler, then hit a third from the right wing on another wire from Zeigler.
By the time Vescovi skipped Eric Hunter Jr.’s pass and scored on a runout, Tennessee was leading 53-35 with 9:15 remaining.
“What kept me going were my teammates, no doubt,” Vescovi said. “The energy they brought to the defensive side is just something infectious, which gets everyone moving.”
Butler: The Bulldogs will face BYU, which lost to Southern California in the first round, in Thursday’s consolation bracket.
Tennessee: The Volunteers advanced to Thursday’s semifinals to face USC, who beat BYU in the first round on Wednesday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
AP College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
This story was originally published November 23, 2022 6:46 p.m.