UT's big finish tames Tigers, 67-46

InsideTennessee has everything you need on Vol hoops. Check out this colorful and insightful recap of Saturday night's game with Tennessee State:

Marcus Roper drained 4 of 6 shots from 3-point range and Jay Harris 3 of 5 in shooting Tennessee State to a 38-37 lead with 14:26 left in Saturday night’s game with Tennessee. Some 13,000 Vol fans were squirming in their seats but head coach Donnie Tyndall figured the long-range bombing ultimately would fail.

He was right. Tennessee State started missing 3-pointers and Tennessee started making them. Result: The Vols outscored the Tigers 30-8 the rest of the way to post a 67-46 victory at Thompson-Boling Arena.

“Our goal is to make the opponent shoot 40 percent or more of their balls from behind the (3-point) line,” Tyndall told InsideTennessee. “We chart it, and 82 percent of the time when we make a team do that we win the game. They (Tigers) shot 23 of their 47 from behind the arc, which is almost 50 percent. When you shoot that many you’re going to make some.”

Obviously. Virginia Commonwealth’s Melvin Johnson hit 5 of 11 treys in a Game 1 defeat of the Vols. Marquette’s Duane Wilson hit 5 of 9 in a Game 5 defeat of the Vols. Kansas State’s Marcus Foster hit 7 of 14 in a one-point Game 6 loss to the Vols. North Carolina State’s Ralston Turner made 8 of 17 in a Game 8 defeat of the Vols, Tennessee Tech’s Torrance Rowe 4 of 8 in a three-point Game 9 loss and Mercer’s Ike Nwamu 6 of 11 in a Game 10 loss.

So, even when Tennessee wins, the opponent’s best 3-point shooter tends to have a big night. But that’s OK.

“We want the other team to settle for 3s as much as possible,” Vol senior Josh Richardson said. “When they start to cool off we pull away because it’s going to be hard for one guy to beat us.”

Basically, Tyndall has little choice but to invite 3-pointers. He’d rather opponents unload from 20 feet than challenge Tennessee’s skinny freshman post tandem of 6-foot-8, 205-pound Willie Carmichael and 6-foot-10, 205-pound Tariq Owens. In addition to protecting the Vols’ soft interior, 3-pointers limit the opponent’s offensive-rebound and free-throw opportunities.

“What it does is, it takes you out of rebounding position,” Tyndall said. “It keeps you off the foul line. For example, they (Tigers) shot only five free throws. So you give up some points from behind the line but you get ‘em back in some other ways if you guard the right way. And I thought (allowing) 36 percent overall and only putting them on the foul line five times … that’s good progress.”

Unfortunately for the Big Orange, Tennessee State coach Dana Ford operates on much the same philosophy – playing zone and daring the opponent to hit enough 3-pointers to win. His zone forced the Vols to launch more than half of their shots (29 of 54) from beyond the arc. After making just 5 of 14 in the first half, Tennessee drained 8 of 15 after intermission, and that ultimately turned the game.

Two foul shots by Josh Richardson gave Tennessee the lead for good at 39-38, then Robert Hubbs hit a 3-pointer from the left baseline for a 42-38 lead. Moments later a Kevin Punter 3-pointer and a Punter layup widened the gap to 51-40. An Armani Moore dunk, then a steal and drive by Punter put Tennessee on top 55-40 with 7:02 remaining.

Harris finally stopped the bleeding by sinking a 3 for Tennessee State but Richardson answered with back-to-back 3s as the bulge swelled to 61-43. A 3-pointer by Hubbs made it 64-43 with 2:19 remaining and yet another 3 by Punter closed the game’s scoring.

Long-range bombing may not win many games for Tennessee but it won this one. Punter finished with 18 points, hitting 7 of 9 overall and 4 of 4 from 3. Richardson added 16 points, sinking 5 of 12 from the field and 4 of 8 from 3. Hubbs chipped in 11 points, making 4 of 7 overall and 3 of 6 from 3.

For those keeping score at home, Punter, Richardson and Hubbs combined to sink 11 of 18 attempts from behind the arc and accounted for 45 of the 67 points as the Vols improved to 7-4.

“I don’t think we got in the flow the first 30 minutes offensively against the zone,” Tyndall said. “Any time you make a few 3s that loosens things up; you have more driving opportunities, and we had that in the second half, particularly the last 12 minutes.”

Leading just 29-26 at intermission, Tennessee outscored the Tigers 38-20 thereafter.

“The first half we was a little sluggish,” Punter said. “They (Tigers) made a few shots and we missed a few but the second half we picked it up. We got more steals and deflections, got the fans into the game, then we got it rolling.”

The Vols really “got it rolling” the last 14 minutes, closing the game on that wild 30-8 run. Punter, who recorded a game-high 4 steals, thought defense was the key.

“Our trap kind of wore on ‘em,” he said. “We can feel when the opponent is just starting to fade away a little bit.”

In addition to his 16 points, Richardson recorded 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals, while committing just 2 turnovers in 36 minutes at the point. He was excited by the Vols’ big finish.

“Guys were yelling and jumping around on defense,” he said. “It’s fun to play basketball when you’re hitting your shots and getting out in transition.”

Moore had a poor game offensively (1-for-6 shooting, 4 points) but grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds as the Vols won the backboards 38-27. Now that 6-foot-8 Jabari McGhee is sidelined, Moore feels the need to pick up some slack on the glass.

“I told my teammates that I’m going to do a good job trying to distribute ball, get them a lot of looks,” he said. “And I told him to just shoot because I’m going to get every rebound I can.”

Roper finished with 16 points and Harris 15 for Tennessee State, which slips to 2-11.

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