Tennessee gritted out yet another win in matchup with a new potential NCAA Tournament hopeful team on Sunday night and defeated the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 77-70.
The Vols are now riding a three-game winning streak and are off to their best start since the 2010-2011 season. The teams were heading in opposite directions before the game — Tennessee was coming off of a large win over Mercer in Knoxville while Georgia Tech had just fallen to a 2-5 Grambling State team on Friday.
It wasn’t the prettiest game (a lot of things went wrong for Tennessee) but the Vols were unyielding and pulled off yet another big nonconference win.
Here are three things we learned:
Grant Williams Saved the Baptism For Sunday
If you follow Tennessee basketball at all, then you know Grant Williams is really good. However, it seems like he reminds us all of just how good in each game.
Williams was probably item number one on Georgia Tech’s scouting report, and the Yellow Jackets decided to double-team him whenever he got close to the paint.
But that didn’t work.
Williams had no problem knocking down contested shots in the paint. The 6-foot-7 forward showcased his tremendous body control and his ability to get to the paint at will. Being undersized is a total myth, and Williams jumped over taller defenders to get his shots off.
The sophomore had 10 points and five rebounds at halftime. Williams scored just one point and grabbed one rebound in the second half, as he fell victim to foul trouble and eventually picked up his fifth and final foul with three minutes remaining in the game.
We learned just how athletic Williams was against Georgia Tech. With this one on a Sunday, Williams felt as though a couple of baptisms were in order.
This dunk, goodness pic.twitter.com/AItpVj3b65
— gmannVOLS (@gmannVOLS) December 3, 2017
Zone Won’t Solve All Problems
Teams know by now that Tennessee likes to do its work inside and knows how to rebound the ball. Typically, you combat this by playing zone defense, and that’s what Georgia Tech tried to do. The Yellow Jackets must have not paid attention to what the Vols did to Mercer, though.
Tennessee went 13 of 25 from beyond the arc and had three players with three or more 3-pointers. The Vols’ shooters must have been giddy when the Yellow Jackets came out in a zone. After missing their first four shots from downtown, the Vols went 5 of 10 from beyond the arc, helping them secure a six-point halftime lead.
Tennessee’s success from deep continued into the second half, and these shots were absolute momentum-killers. It seemed like every time the Yellow Jackets started to threaten, Tennessee would knock down a 3-ball.
Georgia Tech’s zone also didn’t do much to deter Tennessee from getting in the paint. Just like in the first half against Villanova, Tennessee slowed the game down and found the gaps in the zone, patiently waiting for chances and taking advantage. Georgia Tech was forced to switch to man-to-man halfway through the first half.
“Young Vets” Have Poise
When looking to pick teams for the NCAA Tournament, the committee will look for teams that make their late-game free throws. That kind of poise wins games. Tennessee held off Georgia Tech by converting on 13 of their 15 free throw attempts in the last two minutes of play.
While the Vols don’t have many veterans on their roster, you can’t tell by watching them play. Sophomores Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden and Grant Williams (as well as others) had to play major minutes as freshmen, and it seems like that experience has worked wonders in terms of their development. Tennessee is playing with more maturity than just about every team it has faced so far.
When a team has its two starting big men foul out, it’s usually pretty evident in the way they play moving forward. Tennessee faced that situation Sunday night when Kyle Alexander and Williams were disqualified late in the second half, and a couple of players stepped up in a big way to secure the win.
Lamonte Turner had 16 points in the second half and converted on all nine of his free throws. He also was a source of momentum, and had a big-time bucket and the foul to extend the lead late in the game. Admiral Schofield scored all 10 of his points in the second half and had to revert to his old role of playing in the post to make up for the losses of Williams and Alexander.
Without these two guys, Tennessee would have been in serious trouble.