KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee men's basketball team beat Jacksonville State 75-53 on Saturday to shake off back-to-back losses to Memphis and Cincinnati, improve to 8-3 this season and secure the 700th victory of Rick Barnes' head coaching career that includes stints at George Mason, Providence, Clemson and Texas.
The 21st-ranked Volunteers return to competition when they host Wisconsin (6-5) at 1:30 p.m. this Saturday, and Barnes has given his players a few days off. They're set to return to campus on Christmas night Wednesday to begin preparing for the Badgers, who will serve as Tennessee's final test before opening Southeastern Conference play Jan. 4 against LSU.
Here are three observations from Saturday's game:
1. Now what? The news of Lamonte Turner stepping away from basketball to have season-ending shoulder surgery is a sad development regarding the 6-foot-2 senior guard, who was visibly upset from the moment he walked into the press room Saturday and stopped mid-answer to a question to reveal his decision. It will have a reverberating effect on the Vols, who are already hurting where depth is concerned. Tennessee is down to eight scholarship players, four of them freshmen, and has only one player, freshman Josiah-Jordan James, who looks even remotely comfortable as a lead guard (although senior Jordan Bowden can handle the role). Those two players and freshman Davonte Gaines will have to become the team's primary ball handlers, and time will tell if midseason enrollee Santiago Vescovi can contribute soon enough to make a difference in 2019-20.
2. Bowden warming up: Jordan Bowden's 4-for-10 showing from 3-point range in a 19-point performance against the Gamecocks was a welcome sight for the Vols, considering he was a combined 6-for-28 from behind the arc in his previous six games. A whirlwind 48 hours started with the 6-foot-5 senior guard having his number retired at Knoxville's Carter High School, his alma mater, then finding out the next morning that his grandmother had passed away. Then he learned that his lone classmate on the team, Turner, was stepping away. However, the Vols needed Bowden's performance Saturday, and they'll need a lot more from him to be competitive the rest of the season.
3. Perimeter defense? Eh : Let's be clear: The Yves Pons block party was fun to watch, especially the one that he sent into the courtside seats. But a couple of his six total blocks Saturday came as a result of missed perimeter defensive assignments or simply getting beat off the dribble. With a patchwork roster, the Vols are going to have to win games in an ugly fashion this season, led by their defense and taking advantage of opportunities on the offensive end of the court when presented. But they're going to need all hands on deck to do that, and with only one true post player (junior John Fulkerson), as well as an athletic freak (Pons) and a third option who has never played inside before (freshman Olivier Nkamhoua), Tennessee can't gamble. The Vols have to be solid on the perimeter so the posts aren't forced into cheap fouls inside, because they can't afford it this season.
The Lady Vols were far more aggressive in Saturday's win over Portland State, and two other observations