The Vols get another look at him when they face North Carolina State tonight in Raleigh. After sitting out the 2013-14 season as a transfer, Lacey is leading the Wolfpack in points (16.9 per game), assists (3.9 per game), 3-point percentage (42.5) and steals (11). He’s second in field-goal percentage (52.9) and rebounds (5.1 per game). In short, the Wolfpack’s 6-foot-3, 208-pound junior ranks among the top guards in all of college hoops.
Lacey faced the Vols four times while playing for the Tide, averaging 12.5 points per game. Interestingly enough, though, his production declined steadily each time. Check it out:
-Feb. 18, 2012 in Tuscaloosa: He scored 18 points in a 62-50 Tide victory, hitting 4 of 10 from the field, 1 of 3 from 3 and 9 of 12 from the foul line.
-Jan. 12, 2013 in Tuscaloosa: He scored 15 points in a 68-65 Bama win, hitting 5 of 12 from the field, 2 of 5 from 3 and 3 of 4 from the foul line.
-Jan. 26, 2013 in Knoxville: He scored 11 points in a 54-53 Vol victory, hitting 4 of 13 from the field, 2 of 5 from 3 and 1 of 2 from the foul line.
-March 15, 2013 in the SEC Tournament at Nashville: He scored 6 points in a 58-48 Alabama win, hitting 2 of 8 from the field, 1 of 4 from 3 and 1 of 2 from the foul line.
Lacey’s diminishing returns versus the Vols can be traced to 6-foot-6 senior Josh Richardson, who guarded him one-on-one with increasing effectiveness in the four previous matchups. The man-to-man element will be missing tonight, however, since Tennessee now plays almost exclusively 1-3-1 zone.
“It’s different, knowing I can’t just buckle up and guard him every play,” Richardson said. “But I think our other guards and wings have done a good job of containing guys. Trevor’s a guy that plays off rhythm a lot, so I’ve been telling ‘em to not get shook up by his crossovers.”
Lacey has fine-tuned his game a bit since Tennessee last faced him in the 2013 SEC Tournament.
“He just seems to play a lot more mature, a lot more under control,” Richardson said. “He’s had a lot of development.”
Vol junior Armani Moore also sees a much-improved Lacey these days.
“Just watching him on film, I think he’s done a lot of things to get better,” Moore said. “I know at Alabama he was a very great player; he can really create his own shot off the dribble. We just need to look at containing him.”
Lacey has a lot of help, which is why N.C. State brings an 8-2 record into tonight’s game.
“They’re the most talented team we’ve played, with the possible exception of Kansas,” Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said. “I don’t know if they’re more talented than Kansas but they may be every bit as talented.”
A key for Tennessee will be to play aggressive defense without fouling. Teams tend to be whistled for more fouls on the road than at home. That does not bode well for Tennessee, which averages a whopping 24.1 fouls per game to rank fourth nationally in the category.
“If you remember, we had some foul trouble against Kansas, and it could be the same type of situation (versus N.C. State),” Tyndall told InsideTennessee. “Maybe we back off with our press, particularly early in the game … maybe we don’t. We’ll see how the game unfolds. I think we’ve done a better job the past couple of games of showing our hands to the officials, not grabbing or hand-checking guys when they put it on the floor. And we’ve kind of shrunk our zone, so guys are not having to guard at 28 to 30 feet.”
Tennessee will be looking for some redemption tonight after being humiliated by N.C. State 364 days ago. Playing one of the worst halves in program history on Dec. 18, 2013, the listless Vols shot 24.1 percent (7 of 29) from the field and 0 of 8 from 3 en route to a 37-20 halftime deficit. The Big Orange rallied mildly in the second half but lost 65-58 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Asked if that loss motivates him, Moore shrugged.
“It’s a new year and a new team,” he said, “so we’re going to try and get a new outcome.”
Fresh from a homefloor loss to Wofford in which a potential game-winning basket by Lacey was ruled after the buzzer, N.C. State figures to be angry tonight.
“I was hoping like heck they were going to win that game and have that basket counted,” Tyndall said. “Mark (Gottfried) is a very good coach, so I’m sure they had two grind-it-out days of practice. They’ll probably have a great crowd with a team like Tennessee coming in. Their team will be excited to play and, hopefully, we will be, as well.”
Whereas the Wolfpack is coming off a stunning loss, Tennessee (4-3) is coming off a monumental 67-55 upset of No. 15 Butler that has the Vols riding an emotional high.
“It feels great, knowing we’re turning the corner,” Richardson said. “I think we can get on a roll now.”
GAME NOTES: Raleigh’s PNC Arena holds fond memories for the Vols, who gave two of their best performances of 2013-14 in NCAA Tournament regional play there last March – trouncing UMass 86-67 and mauling Mercer 83-63 to earn a berth in the Sweet 16…. Gottfried went 6-1 against Tennessee as a player at Alabama (1984-87) and 9-4 against the Vols as Bama’s coach (1999-2009). He was 1-1 versus Jerry Green, 6-0 versus Buzz Peterson, 2-3 versus Bruce Pearl. Gottfried is 1-0 against Tennessee since taking the N.C. State reins.... North Carolina State leads the Atlantic Coast Conference and ranks sixth nationally with 6.9 blocked shots per game. BeeJay Anya, a 6-foot-9, 295-pounder who ranks fourth nationally with an average of 3.7 blocks per game, recorded 10 earlier this season against Jacksonville…. Tennessee thrives on forcing turnovers but the Wolfpack commits just 10.9 per game.... Tipoff for tonight’s game is 7:02 with TV coverage provided by ESPN2.