Despite a tough offensive start for No. 1 Tennessee, the Vols rallied back and ended up dominating West Virginia as part of the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Things got off to a slow start in Knoxville on Saturday afternoon for the Vols, as West Virginia jumped out to an early 19-7 lead to start the game. The Mountaineers had knocked off a top-10 team in Kansas just a week earlier, and beating the top-ranked Vols was starting to seem like a possibility. Especially considering that Tennessee had never trailed by double digits this season.
Then, the Vols got going.
Tennessee would go on a 24-2 run to finish the first half, and West Virginia would never recover. The second half was never close, either. It got chippy at times, with a couple of flagrant fouls being awarded to both teams at different points. One on West Virginia’s Wesley Harris for slapping Grant Williams in the face while diving for a loose ball. The other on Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield after what looked like a little bit of embellishment from a West Virginia player.
When it was all said and done, Tennessee had cruised to a 83-66 finish against the Mountaineers.
The highlight of the night may have been Lamonte Turner returning to the starting lineup for the first time this season. He replaced Yves Pons, who had been struggling to contribute consistently on the offensive end the last few games. Rick Barnes also apparently knew that Turner would be a better contributor for the game.
Rick Barnes wanted another ball handler on the floor, which he says is why he started Lamonte Turner tonight. After watching WVU vs Kansas film, he wanted to make that move. @Vol_Hoops
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) January 26, 2019
Turner finished the night with a smooth 23-point game, shooting 80 percent from the field and 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. He was also smothering on the defensive end.
Schofield finished the game with a double-double, notching 14 points and ten rebounds. Williams and Jordan Bowden finished with 19 and 15 points, respectively.
Tonight’s game was almost the exact opposite of Tennessee’s game against Vanderbilt earlier this week. Instead of jumping out to an early lead, but keeping it close the rest of the game, the Vols fell behind early, but dominated the final 30 minutes of the game.
This result makes it 14 straight wins for Tennessee and two straight losses for West Virginia.
Tennessee’s next game is Tuesday evening on the road against South Carolina, who is currently ranked fourth in the SEC. They’ll also hit the road next Saturday to play Texas A&M, who is currently ranked 13th in the SEC.
If their past few games are any indicator, though, Tennessee is going to get every team’s best effort. Especially if they keep their No. 1 ranking after this week, like they should. They weren’t perfect the whole game tonight, by any means. But, they still looked like one of the best teams in the country.