Vols hold seventh foe to 50 points or less in rout of Eastern Kentucky

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee senior forward Uros Plavsic and senior guard Tyreke Key celebrate during Wednesday night’s 84-49 blowout of Eastern Kentucky. Key and Plavsic combined for 30 points.

Forget beating Tennessee in basketball right now.

Perhaps the more realistic goal for opponents of the Volunteers is to score more than 50 points.

Tennessee played its first game this season as a top-10 team Wednesday night and looked the part in an 84-49 pummelling of Eastern Kentucky before 15,746 inside Thompson-Boling Arena. The No. 7 Vols struggled offensively in the first half before righting that ship, but they were stout throughout defensively in improving to 8-1 and winning for a 22nd consecutive time at home.

The Colonels became the seventh team this season that has failed to score more than 50 points against Tennessee, joining a list containing fellow overmatched teams such as McNeese and Alcorn State within the past week but also reigning national champion Kansas.

"I thought, defensively, that we stayed locked in as far as what we had to do," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes told the Vol Network. "We didn't start out the game doing what we had talked about for a couple days, but we keep saying that if we keep playing defense and we keep rebounding, we'll find a way to get it done on the offensive end.

"It's not always as pretty as you want it to be, but I thought our effort tonight was there on both ends."

The Vols had five games last season when they held foes to 50 points or fewer.

Tyreke Key scored 17 points to lead five Tennessee players in double figures, with Julian Phillips adding 16, Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic 13 apiece, and Olivier Nkamhoua 10. The Vols wound up drawing 30 fouls and went 31-of-41 from the free-throw line.

Yet defense has been the name of Tennessee's game, and the Vols held the Colonels to 22.1% shooting from the floor and 17.1% from the 3-point line. EKU fell to 4-5 this season and to 0-6 all-time against Tennessee, which includes a first-round loss in the 1979 NCAA tournament.

The Colonels jumped out to a 5-0 lead, snapping Tennessee's three-game streak of leading wire to wire, with the Vols going ahead to stay at 12-11 on a Key 3-pointer at the 10:59 mark of the first half. They got some breathing room late in the half with a 7-0 run to establish their first double-digit bulge at 27-17, with a Plavsic layup and free throws by Jahmai Mashack and Zeigler aiding the spurt.

"It was pretty physical at the start of the game, and Zakai wound up drawing 10 fouls tonight," Barnes said. "This was good for us. Sometimes with these buy games, teams will come here and play totally different, but I thought all three of these teams played to their personality to get themselves ready for their conference play."

Tennessee took a 32-21 lead into intermission and promptly put the game away with a 10-0 run to open the second half that included eight points by Key, whose 3 with 17:31 left made it 42-21 and resulted in an EKU timeout.

The scheduled stiffens significantly for the Vols, who will face No. 13 Maryland on Sunday afternoon at the Barclays Center in New York City, which will be televised by Fox Sports 1 at 4:30. In the NET rankings unveiled earlier this week, Tennessee is No. 4 and the Terrapins are No. 6.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.