Starting what promises to be a tough stretch of 10 games even before tipping off their Southeastern Conference basketball schedule, the Tennessee Volunteers went to Toronto and beat No. 20 Washington 75-62 in the James Naismith Classic on Saturday.
Jordan Bowden led the Vols (3-0) with 18 points, scoring all but three in the first 20 minutes as they built a 40-28 halftime lead. The Huskies (2-1) closed within seven twice in the second half, the second time with 8:39 to play, but the Vols kept them at arm's length the rest of the way by knocking down free throws when necessary to seal a win that could move Tennessee into the nationals rankings when the new polls are released Monday.
The Vols return to competition when they host Alabama State (0-3) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Here are three observations from Saturday's win:
1. Start fast, finish strong: Tennessee built its 12-point halftime lead on strong offense and quality defense. The Vols had assists on all 15 of their baskets, shooting 56% from the field and connecting on five of eight 3-point attempts. It was an 11-2 run that helped the Vols assume control as they picked apart the Huskies' zone defense with patient passing, moving the ball from side to side on the perimeter until an opening presented itself in the middle of the zone. Tennessee's John Fulkerson and Yves Pons made a living in the middle with short jump shots, and once the lead was built it was about maintaining it. The Vols did so by limiting the Huskies to 37% shooting in the second half and 40% for the game.
2. Finding the veteran hot hand(s): The Vols have leaned heavily on the foursome of Bowden, Fulkerson, Pons and senior guard Lamonte Turner. While Bowden carried the offensive load in the first half, Turner took over in the second by making nine of 10 free throws as he finished with 16 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Pons (15 points) and Fulkerson (14 points, six rebounds) did their part, a good omen because Tennessee just doesn't have a lot of trustworthy options right now. Those may present themselves later this season, but Tennessee is fortunate to have players who can carry the load while teammates with less experience adjust to the college game.
3. Tighter rotation: The Vols will have opportunities to develop their depth by getting younger, more inexperienced players on the floor. Saturday, it appears, was not one of them. Only seven Tennessee players got into the game, and the Vols used only six in the second half. The seventh, junior guard Jalen Johnson, played only six first-half minutes and missed his lone shot. Josiah-Jordan James had nine points, five assists and four rebounds and knocked down his first career 3-pointer while playing 36 minutes, and fellow freshman Olivier Nkamhoua scored three points and blocked two shots in 16 minutes. He was the lone substitute who played for the Vols in the second half as all five starters clocked at least 30 minutes in the game, with Bowden and Turner tallying 39 apiece.