KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee men's basketball team rallied from 15 points down in the first half of Tuesday night's game at Alabama to win 69-68.
The victory halted a three-game losing streak for the Volunteers (13-9, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) and kept alive their postseason hopes as they prepare to host Kentucky (17-5, 7-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday in a game that will be televised by CBS.
Here are three observations from the win at Alabama (12-10, 4-5):
1. Veteran leadership: Tennessee coach Rick Barnes has been imploring his few veteran players to step up and play even larger roles on offense this season. Tuesday night was the first time when each of the three primary players in terms of experience — senior Jordan Bowden and juniors John Fulkerson and Yves Pons — were actually on the same page in that regard. The trio combined for all but 13 of the team's points, more than half of its rebounds, all six of its blocks and seven of its 13 steals. To win on the road in any league, you need your experienced players to step up, and that's what the Vols' veteran trio did Tuesday.
2. New way to win: Tennessee had been 0-11 under Barnes in games in which it failed to hand out at least 10 assists. Tuesday was the first time the Vols won despite not creating shots for each other, as Tennessee had just eight helpers — five by freshman Santiago Vescovi — and largely dominated by just relentlessly driving to the basket. The Vols shot 21 free throws in the second half, making more shots at the foul line (15) than they did from the field (11) in the game's final 20 minutes. That usually hasn't been a recipe for success for Barnes-coached teams during his five seasons in Knoxville, but it played a huge role against a good Crimson Tide team.
3. Taking a chance had positive "Gaines": Tennessee freshman Davonte Gaines hadn't experience a full game's worth of action this calendar year, totaling 37 minutes in the Vols' first eight games of 2020 heading into Tuesday night, but Barnes took a chance on the gangly 6-foot-7, 178-pound guard in the second half against the Tide, playing him 11 minutes after the break and 15 overall. Gaines didn't make a basket, missing all three of his second-half field goals, but his activity on defense helped him register a steal, and Barnes' decision to stick with Gaines — even as he played with four fouls — could do wonders for the young player's confidence.