This current version of hardwood Volunteers will never be mistaken for the Showtime era Lakers. Despite their lack of offensive acumen, they continue to take a page out of the Bluff City Grizzlies' book by executing a Grit Grind style that fits the personality of Head Coach Cuonzo Martin. Tonight the Xavier Musketeers invaded TBA, and the Big Orange defended their home turf with a hard fought 51-47 win. Here are a few musings:
UT's shooting woes are a serious concern going into SEC play. The Vols shot 38.8% from the floor, 62.5% from the NAIL (I'm looking at you Jimmy Dykes) and a paltry 15% from deep. Yes, that's right; the Vols were 3-20 on three point attempts. So much for busting the 2-3 zone. If UT is to entertain any hopes of having a strong SEC season, they must figure out how to put the pumpkin in the basket at a better clip.
Welcome to the show, Derek Reese! Freshman wing Derek Reese saw his first game action tonight after returning earlier than expected from a torn labrum. He played 23 minutes tallying 7 points and some high energy plays (drew a key charge). I'm sure, as he gets his legs, shots will start to fall, and he'll become a valuable contributor to this squad. At 6'8", 208 lbs. his shooting and slashing abilities give Coach Martin some much needed offensive firepower.
When Josh Richardson signed to play at UT, there weren't many Big Orange message board zealots doing keyboard cartwheels. As a Freshman last season, he earned a key role through his defensive tenacity. Now he has added some offensive tools to his arsenal which has enabled him to blossom as a Sophomore. Tonight Richardson led the team with 36 minutes (no one else played more than 28) and 12 points (on 5 of 6 shooting). He also hauled in 7 rebounds and blocked 2 shots.
I love watching Yemi Makanjuola. Ever since the days of Christian Okoye on Tecmo Bowl, I have been looking for another athlete to refer to as "The Nigerian Nightmare". The Nigeria native, Yemi, has become a nightmare for opposing players to keep off the glass. Tonight he pulled down 8 boards in only 9 minutes of play. That being said, he was only one foul away from fouling out of the game. If he can ever learn to harness his rough and tumble style enough to stay on the floor for extended minutes, look out! For now, I'll take his Bull in a China Shop style of play for 10 minutes a game.
Just as Yemi brings high energy to the post, the former Austin-East Roadrunner, Brandon Lopez brings the same energy to the perimeter for Coach Martin. He's not a stat stuffer, but I really like the backup point guard.
I love it when Jordan McRae plays aggressively. His aggressive move to the basket (resulting in a layup) at the 51.6 mark of the second half helped seal the game for the Vols.
Tonight the Vols were able to beat a game opponent without big games from either Trae Golden or Jarnell Stokes (Golden did hit some clutch free throws during the last minute of the second half). Stokes played only 21 minutes in the game (most of those in the first half) as it seemed Coach Martin was trying to send him a message. Stokes is the most physically gifted player on the roster. That being said, he should pull down more than three rebounds in any game he competes. It was great to see some other guys step up tonight, but if this team is going to make a run at the NCAA Tournament, Golden and Stokes are going to have to contribute on a much more consistent basis.