Reese found his rhythm after intermission – hitting 5 of 7 shots (2 of 2 from 3), grabbing 3 rebounds, dishing out 2 assists and making a steal in 13 turnover-free minutes – to help the Vols pull away for a 77-49 victory. He finished the night 5 of 9 from the field, 2 of 3 from beyond the arc and tied with Josh Richardson for team scoring honors with 14 points.
The 6-foot-8, 221-pounder is performing so well that fellow junior Armani Moore, the projected starter at power forward, continues to come off the bench and play primarily at small forward.
“He’s a mismatch,” Richardson said of Reese. “He definitely stretches the floor for us. He’s a 6-8 guy that can shoot it, so playing the power-forward spot, it’s tough for other teams to match up to that.”
For undersized Lenoir-Rhyne of the NAIA it was impossible. Being stronger than the Bears’ posts and taller than their wings, Reese pretty much did whatever he wanted in the second half – scoring inside for a while, then stepping outside and draining jumpers.
“I think Derek can really stretch the floor,” Vol head man Donnie Tyndall said. “He’s what we call a pick-and-pop 4 man. We can throw back to him and he can make jump shots in trail situations, pick-and-pop situations. He can rip it and drive it one or two dribbles when he gets a big guy in a close-out situation.”
None of these skills were evident in the first half, however, as Reese seemed to be playing tentatively.
“I didn’t start him the second half because I didn’t think he rebounded the ball real well the first half,” Tyndall said. “He did a much better job the second half.”
Reese is a reasonably good passer for his size, which is a valuable asset for a team lacking a true point guard.
“He’s a skilled 4 man, so he helps you to run offense and makes it a little bit easier,” Tyndall said. “With our lack of a natural point guard, you’ve got to be able to run some offense through your bigs.”
Reese appeared to be the odd-man-out in preseason, lacking the heft to play inside and lacking the ball-handling skills to play outside. He has added about 15 pounds since last season, however, and developed into a capable post player.
“Derek is a better athlete than maybe people would think,” Tyndall said. “He’s an athletic guy with strength. The biggest (negative) thing with Derek earlier in the year was that all he wanted to do was be a jump shooter. Now we’ve got him going to the offensive glass, we’ve got him driving the ball a little bit. He can loosen up the defense because he can dribble-drive it, so it gives him a chance to make those jump shots.”
After shooting mostly from the perimeter in his first two years with the Vols, Reese understands that he has a new role for 2014-15 … and that role is a lot closer to the basket.
“He (Tyndall) really told me I needed to drive, focus on my athleticism and use that, instead of focusing on shooting as my main thing,” Reese told InsideTennessee. “He said there’s nothing wrong with shooting; he just wants me to attack first.”
Reese certainly went on the attack in the second half. After sitting out the first two minutes he scored on a dunk mere seconds after entering the lineup. He later scored on a tip-in and a 3 from the key to cap a 13-0 spurt that turned a 38-30 lead into a 51-30 lead.
Lenoir-Rhyne closed to 56-43 but Reese scored on another tip-in and another 3 as the Big Orange outscored the Bears 21-4 the rest of the way. That’s the Tyndall way … taxing opponents with fullcourt pressure, then dominating the final minutes.
“I thought as the game wore on – the second half, in particular – our press wore on them, which is usually the benchmark of our team,” Tyndall said. “That’s the way we play the last 10 to 12 minutes of the second half: We wear on people and take their legs.”
The statistics support that notion. After recording just three steals in Monday night’s exhibition opener versus Pikeville, Tennessee recorded 18 steals against Lenoir-Rhyne, with many of them coming in the game’s final 10 minutes.
“Our press was better tonight,” Tyndall said. “It takes a while to pick up schematically what we do and where we’re supposed to be, and I thought we made progress from the first game and were better tonight.”
Tennessee also made significant improvement from Exhibition No. 1 to No. 2 in ball security. After committing 18 turnovers in the former, the Vols were guilty of just nine in the latter.
“Without a true point guard we aren’t a fluid, smooth-flowing machine,” Tyndall quipped. “We’re going to have to create some offense from our defense, and that will be a work in progress as we move forward.”