The 6-foot-5 junior combo forward posted a career-high point total for the second game in a row Thursday in Orlando. After scoring 11 points in a Game 2 defeat of Texas Southern one week ago, he manufactured 18 in guiding the Vols past Santa Clara 64-57 in Round 1 of the Orlando Classic.
Here’s another oddity: After shooting 30 percent from the foul line in the Vols’ first two games, Moore drained 10 of 12 free-throw attempts in this game.
“You don’t know how much my team has criticized me for that,” Moore said on the post-game show. “I came into this game shooting 3 for 10 or something like that.”
Basically, this game was won during the first 9½ minutes of the second half. Down 30-27 at the break, Tennessee turned up the defensive heat and outscored Santa Clara 14-0 to open the final 20 minutes, surging ahead 41-30.
Josh Richardson, who also scored 18 points for Tennessee, opened the half with a drive and a 3-pointer from the key that put the Vols on top 32-30, their first lead since 2-0. After a Dominic Woodson foul shot, Moore took a lob from Richardson on an inbounds play and made an acrobatic layup to bump the lead to 35-30 with 14:31 to play.
“Coach Tyndall did a great job of drawing that up,” Moore said. “That was a great opportunity to get an easy basket around the rim. Josh threw the pass, and I was able to finish.”
A 12-foot jumper by Kevin Punter and a finger roll by Robert Hubbs capped the 14-0 explosion and widened the gap to 41-30 with11:54 remaining. Santa Clara closed to 45-38 but Richardson scored the game’s next seven points – a 10-footer, a 3 from the key and two foul shots – as the Vols built their biggest lead at 14 points (52-38) with 6:34 remaining.
Tennessee seemed to get a little tentative at this point, enabling Santa Clara to whittle the gap to 59-55 with 43 seconds left. Detrick Mostella missed the front end of a one-and-one but Jabari McGhee kept the rebound alive and Mostella wound up getting another visit to the free-throw line. He made both shots this time, bumping the lead to 61-55 with 33.8 seconds left.
Moore sealed the deal moments later with a pair of foul shots that pushed the gap to 63-56 with 18.4 seconds left.
Naturally, seeing a 14-point lead dwindle to four was understandably stressful for Vol head coach Donnie Tyndall.
“With a young team – and I hope it’s not the case too much longer – you can play not to lose rather than playing to win,” the coach said. “There’s a distinct difference.”
In addition to his career-best 18 points, Moore recorded 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Richardson hit 2 of 3 shots from behind the arc en route to his 18-point effort. The rest of the Vols combined to go 0 for 8 from 3-point range. Freshman forward Jabari McGhee contributed 8 points and a game-high 9 rebounds off the bench. Brandon Clark scored 21 points to pace Santa Clara.
After another sluggish first half, Tennessee won the second 20 minutes by a 37-27 margin.
“All three second halves so far this year I thought our style of play and our conditioning has taken its toll,” Tyndall said. “That happened again this afternoon.”
Tennessee came out slowly for the fifth game in a row, counting exhibitions. The Vols allowed Santa Clara to make its first four 3-point tries en route to a 12-6 lead. Tennessee was lucky to trail just 30-27 at the half after shooting a chilly 39.3 percent (11 of 28) from the field that included 0 of 4 from behind the arc. The taller Vols also were outrebounded 14-11.
Tennessee played a much better second half, shooting 12 of 23 from the field and dominating the backboards 23-11. After allowing Santa Clara to make 5 of 7 first-half 3-pointers, the Vols limited their foe to 1 of 8 after intermission. <.p>
“I think our intensity stepped up a whole lot the second half,” Moore said. “Our press did a really good job, caused a lot of turnovers (9 in the first half, 13 in the game), and I feel like that’s what got us going.”
Tennessee, now 2-1, returns to action Friday, facing No. 11 Kansas. The Jayhawks advanced with a first-round defeat of Rhode Island.