KNOXVILLE. Tenn. – – Ready or not, here it comes.
A pre-season that was paused for a few weeks. No exhibitions. A landmark game against Gonzaga was canceled. An initial schedule patched at random. Then, a stretch of four games in eight days.
The Southeast Conference season finally arrives at number 8 in Tennessee. The Volunteers (6-0) fought on Wednesday in an 80-60 victory over the USC Upstate.
Victor Bailey scored 18 points to lead the victory. It wasn’t until a 12-2 streak in the middle of the second half that the Volunteers finally managed to pull away, Bailey scored four points in that explosion. Josiah-Jordan James added 11 points and eight rebounds. John Fulkerson scored 10 points.
“Upstate had a fantastic game plan,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “They shortened the game. It was better than beating someone by 30 or 40 points (like the previous two Vols victories). They played at a different pace. They played with great balance. “
The Spartans (0-8) were led by Tommy Brunner with 18 points. Everette Hammond added 13 points.
“Tonight’s message to our guys was, ‘Let’s just make Upstate basketball better,'” said Spartans coach Dave Dickerson. “I think we did it.”
Tennessee’s 33-26 lead at halftime was a fight. The possessions were long and the points difficult to earn. The Volts hit 41% (12 of 29) of the field and 2 of 10 of 3 points. USC Upstate played a persuasive defense, but managed only 39% of the shots (11 of 28).
A steal and rebound basket from Nevin Zink took the Spartans to five, 29-24, 2 minutes from the end of the break.
Bailey scored nine to lead Tennessee. Fulkerson scored six points.
Brunner was the largest producer at USC Upstate with nine points. Zink and Bryson Mozone had six points each.
Tennessee comfortably reaches eight depths in its rotation. On Wednesday night, the Vols may have discovered a new dynamic at that depth.
Olivier Nkamhoua, a 1.80 meter sophomore who comes from Finland, performed and played 13 minutes of quality. He scored nine points and had a rebound and a block to go with him.
“The best move (Nkhamhoua) was the block,” said Barnes. “It’s what I call the ‘fixing’ game. Olivier seemed more relaxed here than ever. “
“I accepted the fact that there is a lot to learn,” said Nkhamhoua. “I don’t have to be perfect. I’m just working to improve every time on the court. “
In the final five minutes of the game, James limped off the court with what appeared to be a non-contact injury to his left knee. Barnes said the injury was not serious.
“He’s fine,” said the coach. “I thought he played really well tonight. He contributed in many areas. “
In addition to his 11 points, James had eight rebounds, five assists and three steals – in addition to some deviations that hindered the flow of the Spartan attack.
“We need someone like Josiah,” said Bailey. “Its impact is needed in many places. It brings the energy. “
USC Upstate: With no wins in eight games, the Spartans are looking for an identity while most of their Big South Conference season is approaching.
Tennessee: There is always a challenge as to whether a team is ready for the most important part of its schedule. This year, given the unique circumstances caused by the pandemic, the concern is even greater. Did the explosive victories over Tennessee Tech and St. Joseph’s and a fight against USC Upstate do enough to prepare the Vols for the Southeast Conference ahead?
USC Upstate: The Spartans took a break from the Big South Conference game to face Tennessee. They will return to league action next Wednesday at High Point.
Tennessee: The Vols will get their first taste of the SEC competition on Wednesday when they travel to Missouri.