Rick Barnes and his Tennessee basketball team came, saw, and then conquered in Phoenix, AZ. The No. 7 Vols knocked off the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs 76-73 in the Jerry Colangelo Classic on Sunday afternoon.
Here’s a few observations from the huge victory…
Jelly comes up clutch
Admiral Schofield (aka Jelly of the dynamic Peanut Butter and Jelly combo along with Grant Williams) had the biggest game of his career against Gonzaga and willed UT to a win. His 30 points were a career high and he also came down with six rebounds. This was truly Admiral coming into form. It was his finest hour at the best time possible and if he hadn’t already, he truly cemented himself as the linchpin of this squad. Yes, Grant is extremely important but it’s becoming a trend that he fouls out late in important games (see the Kansas loss and last year’s SEC Championship-clinching win over Georgia). Someone has to be available to lift the Vols up when perhaps their best player goes to the bench and Admiral is that man. He’s an incredible competitor and leader who will undoubtedly come up clutch on a few more occasions this season.
No Lamonte Turner hurts, but it isn’t fatal
2017-18 SEC Sixth Man of the Year Lamonte Turner didn’t play on Sunday. A nagging shoulder injury kept him out. This is a major loss for the Vols since Turner averaged 10.9 points per game a year ago and has added 10.0 ppg so far this year. Along with regular double-digit scoring, Turner is also a spark on the defensive end. He’s feisty and quick and makes opposing teams extremely uncomfortable. For some squads, this loss could doom them, but even without Turner, Tennessee found a way to vanquish the top team in America. Jordan Bowden finally stepped up with an 11-point performance and, of course, Admiral Schofield came up huge. Turner’s teammates compensated for his absence and more. It would certainly be huge to have him back but this win proves he’s not an absolute requirement for UT to achieve their goals.
Physicality is Tennessee’s biggest asset
After the Vols’ hard-fought victory, Gonzaga head coach Mark Few was quoted saying that the Vols are the most physical team the Bulldogs have faced all season. This is particularly significant because Gonzaga has played (and beaten) Duke, a team that has players like Zion Williamson on its roster. If there’s anything that UT has working in its favor in basically every single matchup, it’s physicality. They come at you and they come at you hard. Whether it’s Grant, Admiral, Yves Pons, or John Fulkerson bodying opponents up around the basket, nothing will ever come easy for teams playing against the Vols. And this a massively useful tool to have in the bag for the Big Orange. If you can be the most physical team on any given night, your chance of winning the game goes up significantly. Obviously, not fouling excessively becomes an issue with such a tough team (I’m looking at you, Grant) but the risk is well worth the reward.